Face Value: A social media analysis

Ex-Instagram star Essena O’Neil recently gained a lot of popularity on social media. This is ironic because she gained this popularity through openly bashing social media and all of its constructs on her own social media accounts.

She edited her ‘modelling’ photo’s captions with what she called “edit real captions”, which would explain to her thousands of dedicated followers just how difficult it was for her to achieve the look of effortless beauty that her photo captured.

Unfortunately for Essena, this was somehow deemed “revolutionary” and suddenly she became the poster child for anything and everything social media. Just as she was complaining about how much she hated the limelight and what it made her do, suddenly the limelight seemingly engulfed her.

What Essena did wasn’t revolutionary; it was a girl who looked back at her social media accounts and regretted lying to the world. She told the truth about her photos and the lengths she went to while taking them. Since when is simply telling the truth “revolutionary”?

Well, actually, since the invention of social media made it so easy for us to lie.

If we are all being honest with ourselves, modern-day social media kicked off with the creation of Facebook back in 2004. I know MySpace existed prior to this, but Facebook globalized our world faster than Zuckerberg could blink. Suddenly people around the world were able to connect with everyone they wanted to, and that made it easy to create an online identity.

With these newfound identities, it was easy for our true selves to become lost in the labyrinth. We were able to see everyone else’s posts about having fun and being beautiful and going out, so we’d ask ourselves: Why aren’t we doing the same?

So you spiced up your posts a bit. Maybe you shared some funny photos so people would think you had a great sense of humour. Maybe you posted that blurry photo of you at the bar so people would know you went out last Friday and didn’t stay in watching movies all night. Maybe you wrote a status about being drunk so people didn’t think you were a prude. Maybe you felt the need to validate and justify your relationship on some social media websites by declaring your relationship or posting photos of you and your SO.

Is it really lying if all the things you post are technically true? Yes, because the very fact that you are posting them takes away from the message you are trying to relay through your online identity.

If you were really out at the music festival having “the time of your life! :)” like your post said you were, the odds of you being on your phone are zero to none. Similarly, if you update your online friends on certain events that happen to you, you are lying through omission.

For example, maybe you missed your bus one morning and had to walk to school in the snow, which made you angry enough to rant about it through a Tweet. However, if you leave out the part about enjoying your walk or smiling at people you passed on the street, people online will have a certain perceived image of you based on that Tweet – and others like it – alone.

That’s not to say you should post about everything that ever happens to you ever. Shutting out the real world entirely would be worse than shutting out a small portion of it.

I am a prime example of someone who lies through omission to feed their online identity. Through my Facebook posts in 2015, my online friends could have easily seen:

  • I spent my summer in Alberta
  • I hung out with my friends a lot
  • I was in the Mass Exodus fashion show in Toronto
  • I am going to Thailand and Italy next year
  • I started making my own food
  • I won a bursary for $1000
  • I learned how to play the ukelele
  • I cut off ten inches of hair to donate to Locks for Love
  • I was in a relationship at the beginning of the year

But none of these Facebook friends would be able to know:

  • I had a mental breakdown in Alberta because I missed my family so much
  • I grew apart from so many friends this year
  • The heels I wore at the fashion show gave me blisters that didn’t go away for a month
  • I spent so many nights crying because I thought I wouldn’t make enough money to go on either of those trips in time
  • I ended up skipping meals and eating out because I dreaded cooking before I learned how
  • The bursary I won had taxes deducted, so I actually only received a portion of the money
  • The girl who taught me the ukelele lives no where near me and I miss her every day
  • I cried when I heard the scissors
  • I am still heartbroken eight months later

So now that we know about it, what do we do about it?

The only thing we can do is monitor ourselves –and those around us – carefully when it comes to our use of social media. If we are using it to share exciting news, upcoming events and genuine thoughts or opinions, then we are staying as true to ourselves as we can be online.

But if we catch ourselves over-posting, sharing only positive or negative experiences or picking fights with strangers in comment threads, then I think we need to stop and re-evaluate what we want to achieve through our actions.

Essena’s case was an extreme one, but we can all relate. Social media isn’t real life, and it’s time we all remember that there’s more to us than an online identity; we have real ones too.


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