On Living a Social Media Lie

By Maha Rauf

Like most things in pop culture, the portrayal of our lives on social media, for the most part, is limited to the highlight reel.

All the complexity, the struggles and the inevitable ‘low’ points of our lives are almost always swept under the rug to make way for flashy aesthetically pleasing pictures. Usually, our social media accounts feature only positives; pictures of trips abroad posing in front of popular landmarks, carefully choreographed brunch photos, perfectly timed boomerangs with our best friends and heavily photoshopped selfies.

This social media charade pervades most of our lives and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m an active participant in it.

I am guilty of living a social media lie. 

And while I don’t actually lie or intend to create a marketable facade, I do find that a lot of my behaviour is driven by the visibility of social media metrics. 

I am embroiled in a trap of social signalling and most people I know are too.

Instagram has become a game of monopoly. Its an ultimately arbitrary exchange of likes and comments that satiates our human desire for validation.

And it’s very problematic.

I am painfully aware of the repercussions of being invested in projecting a faux veneer of fun and happiness on social media, but I still struggle to stop. I have spent an absurd amount of time writing and editing and rewriting and re-editing what I hope are cool, quirky captions. I have spent ages adjusting the brightness, lux, filters and degree of saturation on my pictures before posting them. I also usually feel anxious once I’ve postedconsider deleting the pictures after scrutinising every detail. If I decide against deleting, then for the next five minutes, it’s a familiar, cyclical internal monologue of self-criticism and questioning.

It’s exhausting and stupid. Yet it feels so important. 

We spend so much time crafting and honing our social media existences and competing in futile signalling games like children in an overzealous race to adulthood. 

We quantify our self-worth by likes and comments and are consistently plagued by FOMO and feelings of inadequacy because social media is essentially a breeding ground for these emotions.

I’ve always been fond of aesthetics and have a penchant for pretty looking things and beautiful pictures. So naturally, Instagram appeals to me in all its artful glory. I find it fun and interesting, a good form of connection, a good outlet for creativity, an inventory of significant events and an archive of memorable moments. But I also find it a regular and depressing reminder of every conceivable insecurity I have.

I am bombarded daily with photographic evidence of people who are far more accomplished, talented, successful, smarter, happier, better looking, better dressed and having more fun than I am. 

It’s deeply damaging to be exposed to the best of everyone else’s lives all the time.

Instagram has, according to BBC news, secured a place as the “worst form of social media for mental health”. My personal experience corroborates. this as my emotional wellbeing has been compromised by my obsessive use of Instagram.

And I know for a fact that my behaviour on Instagram is obsessive.

If I see something “instagrammable”, i.e a pretty landscape, a well-presented meal, NOT immediately taking a picture feels like a dereliction of duty.

I don’t want it to be this way, of course. I don’t want to overshare or deceive in any way and that’s partially the reason for my writing this; to address the very obvious fact that my life looks nothing like what it seems on Instagram.

I inhabit an almost completely different identity on Instagram.

Social media is a tool that enables access and aids the functioning of so many different spheres such as commerce, politics, development etc. However, I find that the impact it has on personal lives and the many inexplicable ways it drives our behaviour is a true testament to the breadth of its influence.

While I fully recognise the problems associated with social media, I’m still suspended between my desire for short term gratification in the form of validating comments, likes and story replies and my awareness of how glossing over the realities of my life and masking them on social media is troublesome.

The danger of social media (and in particular, Instagram) lies therein; you are both drawn to and alienated it by it at once.