The Intercollegiate Student Magazine

Can We Make Social Media Authentic?

abstract face art representing social media

It’s two in the morning. You’re doing it again. You’re three years back on her Instagram. You’re careful not to double-tap any of the carefully curated but seemingly effortless pictures you scroll past. Slender bodies, perfect skin, flawless outfits. Parties. Trips to Europe and to the Beach and a cruise around Asia. 

Maybe if this was your life, you would feel… you would be happy. 

But maybe you wouldn’t. Maybe it’s just a facade. 

As a student journalist, social media manager, and twenty-year-old screen addict, I’ve heard just about every opinion there is to be had on social media. From those who have never and will never download Instagram to folks who make a living on there, there’s no correct perspective on social media or how to use it. 

Allen Naliath, a junior at Stanford University, who mainly uses Instagram, Snapchat and BeReal has a generally positive take on the apps. He finds that social media inspires him to seek fun in his everyday life. Specifically, he points to BeReal, released in 2020, which prompts users to take a front and back camera picture once a day in a random two-minute period. The time that the photos are taken as well as the amount of retakes is broadcasted on your friend’s social feed.

Naliath explains that BeReal’s unique set-up motivates him to do at least one fun thing a day — the app encourages him to “get up out of [his] room, relax from work a bit, and do something that’s memorable.” He also appreciates the rate at which he’s encouraged to share BeReal’s or send Snapchats. “The more often you post, the more realistic that contents going to be,” he commented. 

However, to maintain his positive take on social media, Naliath has “intentionally taken steps to morph [his] environment into something that creates the most beneficial environment for [Naliath].” His main focus in creating that environment is controlling who he follows, especially on Instagram. According to him, they must fall into one of three buckets: Someone he’s friends with, someone he wants to be friends with, or someone that inspires him with the content they create. Following a larger crowd is what causes his self-comparison issues to exist…  

Ainsley McCullen, a junior at Flagler College, has found that social media can have a negative impact on her self-perception, even though she knows that a lot of content on social media is “fake.”

“I find myself very vulnerable to comparison,” she confessed. But McCullen has worked on combatting these feelings more recently. She says she tries not to “take anything [on social media] too seriously.”

McCullen doesn’t claim that social media is all bad, either. She appreciates that it keeps her informed and fosters communication with her brother. While she’s not afraid to point out social media falsehoods, she says that there’s “an equal amount that’s genuine, if you know where to look.” 

In fact, studies show that social media use has little to no effect on the majority of adolescents’ self-esteem. So why are we still talking about it? Why do we still debate the content algorithmically presented to youth on social media? 

Though the majority of people may only feel slightly swayed by social media, the dangers presented for the easily susceptible few are grim. Studies suggest that more frequent social media use is linked to eating disorder behaviors, self-reported feelings of depression, and even suicide rates. These concerning statistics have been used in influencing everything from parents’ decisions about their children’s screen time to Congressional hearings on Facebook. 

Most students understand that much of the social media content they see is “curated,” as Naliath puts it. But it’s still difficult to reconcile this knowledge with letting it affect their lives. Knowing someone doesn’t look like that ‘all the time’ doesn’t make you not want to look like them. Knowing someone’s life isn’t always as fun as their Instagram posts make it out to be doesn’t absolve your jealousy. 

McCullen tries to take everything “with a grain of salt.” Naliath says that, specifically with Instagram, you have to “really be careful” to not fall into the trap of self-comparison. When asked if they would ever fully give it up, however, both said no. 

Though a select few people thrive after ridding their phones of social media, deleting these apps can also cause negative feelings. Oftentimes, those without access to social media feel isolated or less informed. Social networks like clubs and athletic organizations often coalesce on social media, communicating online and planning offline social events. At an event held for rising Stanford freshmen this summer, one student asked me what social media apps he ‘needed’ at Stanford. 

For better or for worse, social media has become an almost necessary part of the modern world’s digital landscape. Whether using it to communicate with family and friends, to stay informed on current events, or simply to find the inspiration to seek fun, social media plays a part in almost every college student’s life. So it seems the question is not whether to use social media, but how to. From striking a balance with how much time you spend connecting online with offline to understanding that people’s Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat feeds will often be a highlight reel to perhaps exploring new types of social media that encourage honesty, there are plenty of tricks to reducing the negative impacts and continue to enjoy the positive. Prioritize what matters to you, whether that be reach, friendship, or privacy. 

Social media will continue to grow in ways that make it more and less authentic. As proven by BeReal, the market will find ways to fulfill consumer wants. Just like we fold to social media pressures, social media platforms fold to us. If we want to #MakeInstagramCasualAgain, we can’t continue to use it in the same way that made it stressful. If we want social media to change, we have to.

Oriana Riley is a student at Stanford University studying communications, politics, and creative Writing. You can read more of her work at the Stanford Daily.

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