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The Ugly Truth of Social Media: How You Can Be A Person Worth Following

While life has substantially moved on from the archaic ways of photo sharing of the past, the primary reason we do it remains the same: to inform, connect, and entertain. We want others to know what we have been up to, and we put the pictures and videos to prove them. We want to stay connected to what’s going on in each other’s lives. 
For these reasons, social media has become a valuable platform for us.

But there is an ugly side to social media too.

Fortunately, I believe that we can leverage positivity to elevate our game and tackle social media’s most common problems. The following are what I consider to be the top 3 issues associated with social media and the steps we can take to disrupt them:

ethel emmons
Ethel Emmons

1. “Hey, look at me! I’m pretty!”

Social media has become a place for anyone and everyone to showcase their wares, including their faces and bodies. It has turned to host many images and videos of near-naked bodies and soft porn, impossibly flawless standards of beauty, and unattainable perfect body and face symmetry. While it is true that the premise of social connection contributes to positive mental health benefits, recent research findings suggest social media could promote body image issues, anxiety, and depression deemed harmful to teen girls.  

Social media users are held to such high standards that are impossible to meet or replicate, now or in the future. “Pretty” is not forever, but those posts are. And for the “likers” and followers alike – let’s be honest: there’s a range of negative emotions – from jealousy (“Here she goes again – show-off!”) to self-pity (“Why am I not pretty like her?”), from admiration (“She’s my idol. I want to become like her.”) to stalking (“I want to know everything about her.”), from dismissal (“So what? I don’t care.”) to anger (“I hate her! She doesn’t deserve it!”).

Change your narrative to inspire others:

  1. Turn a self-oriented “look at me; I’m pretty” post to include messages of positivity and inspiration.
  2. Use personal storytelling to show how you overcame obstacles and share lessons learned. 
  3. Highlight role models and modern-day heroes and tribute to their accomplishments and positive contributions. 
  4. Show beautiful things and places as motivational goals. Include guides and how-tos to help others achieve the same goals. 
  5. Encourage your social circle or audience (aka “followers”) to pursue similar endeavors as your call to action. 

2. “I’m famous now.”

How many of you go back to your posts to check on how many have liked or commented? Or how many have followed you in recent days? And how many of you feel rejected or demotivated when you don’t see massive likes or comments on your posts? 

You’re not alone. Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs identified “love and social belongingness” and “esteem needs” as the third and fourth stages. This explains why status, recognition, fame, prestige, attention, and acceptance among social groups are essential to support our overall well-being.

During my early days with Instagram, I was perplexed at how some “non-branded” accounts (those without the coveted verified blue checkmark) could have millions of followers or have likes and comments in the thousands just a few minutes after posting a piece of content. Later on, I discovered the growth hacks in the form of buying fake followers, using fake bots or joining engagement pods.  It showed our obsession to be liked and followed even with the lack of reason to. 

And the worst part of this is the brands who buy into this behavior. Such practice proliferates and justifies that “faking fame” is acceptable. Or is it part of “fake it till you make it” advice? In the documentary, brands enlisted the featured “influencers” to promote their products by giving them gifts and lifestyle perks as long as they act the “part.” 

Be a person worth following:

  1. Whether you’re a social media platform, brand, or an individual, make a stand to disengage from anything related to “fake fame.” It’s okay to have a small number of followers or engagement as long as we are cultivating authentic connections.  
  2. Create valuable and relevant content that educates, entertains, and connects. 
  3. Be a person worth following.  
  4. Find authentic and like-minded communities that share the same niche or purpose.  
  5. Understand the social media platform’s mechanics and features to ensure the optimized reach of your post. There’s nothing wrong with being smart about how you deal with the algorithms. But getting hung up on them is problematic and unhealthy. Focus on quality first. 

3. “I have a perfect life.”

Do you believe everything you see or read on social media? I hope not. Social media posts are primarily polished, staged, and made-up lifestyles. Something aspirational or desirable. The logic goes like this: if you buy these products, you can have this lifestyle. That HBO documentary, “Fake Famous,” showed how to fake a lifestyle for perfect Instagram posts. 
Let’s face it – social media, through images, videos, and live shows – have become a worldwide stage for brand, personal, and product promotions. 

Social media is another advertising medium for brands, and anyone or everyone can be a model. In that case, it doesn’t make it too different from the ads we see on the traditional channels. Posts are highly targeted, staged, polished, and taken from a script that the brand provides. They are not the word-of-mouth testimonials that they seem to portray. The problem lies, though, in people’s perception of the truth. When you see someone you know or an “influencer” represent a perfect life on social media and think that’s the reality and the standard to aim for, that’s a problem. When you harbor feelings of jealousy, inadequacy, or obsession, that’s a problem. 

Change your perspectives and practice empathy:

  1. View those “perfect lifestyles” as advertisements and take them the same way you take traditional advertisements. They are meant to portray an example of a lifestyle one could possibly achieve through those products.  
  2. Treat them as an informational and entertaining way to learn about new products and their features.   
  3. Try putting yourself in the shoes of the influencers. What they do to create the “perfect lifestyles” is astounding. Think about the hair and makeup, lighting and sounds, photography, videography, staging, props, scripts, numerous takes, and editing. The finished product looks flawless, but much work happens behind the scenes to give their audience easy-to-consume and fun-to-watch content.  The point is that a “perfect lifestyle” takes much effort to create because it is not real.  
  4. Perhaps this “perfect lifestyle” could be “what good looks like” from the vantage point of personal objectives. Build upon it and work hard to achieve it.  
  5. Show both sides of the story as part of authenticity. Create positive messages and personal stories to inspire others. At the same time, use social media to expose wrongdoings for public discussion. 
ethel emmons
Ethel Emmons

We all desire social acceptance and approval from people we know or don’t know. Social media platforms know this too well – that’s why they have algorithms that feed this basic human need. The social media platforms, including us, have a shared responsibility to use social media to help educate people at a massive scale, amplify positive messages that promote healthy discussions and win-win outcomes, and create role models and modern-day heroes. As a global community, we are accountable for safeguarding our freedom of speech and creating authentic content that serves a relevant and impactful social purpose. 

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