How many of us are guilty of scrolling through social media all day? How many of us check our Instagram feeds before getting out of bed in the morning? Surveys say media users spend 2.5 hours per day on social media for various reasons. The pervasiveness of social media has come to take over our lives and now defines a large part of who we are. One look at someone’s Instagram feed, and you can learn their likes, dislikes and who they are. Or at least how they wish to be perceived.
Social media is an effective tool in helping individuals put their best foot forward. Amidst the glitz and glamour of perfectly curated feeds and highlight reels, it’s often easy to forget that most of it is not real, which is not to say that it is magic or a hologram, but rather a collection of a few memorable moments in one’s life. However, this is not true for all platforms, and they differ in the levels of authenticity portrayed. Instagram and Facebook, for example, are associated with hindered wellbeing and a more made-up version of reality, compared to Twitter which aids positive emotions and is considered a space to express honest opinions.
One of the prime reasons for monetary-free access to social media is the financial backing by advertisers – both for our time and attention. In 2021, Facebook made $114.9 billion from advertising alone. Advertisements have hijacked social media and transformed it from a platform designed to share and connect to a marketplace to buy and sell. What you’re selling has also changed with people increasingly turning themselves into consumable brands and creating a new career path of ‘influencer’.
Social media trends like ‘that girl‘ promote an ideal lifestyle, extensively curated to drive views to accounts. Such trends flourish and are enormously replicated because of their aspirational value to the audience that consumes them. ‘That girl’ wakes up and makes her Instagram-worthy morning coffee. She shows you her hyper-productive morning routine, wears only the most trendy clothes, flaunts her handsome partner, and makes her day look like she hardly works. She romanticizes life so well that watching her leaves you hating yourself for not having the life she does and feeling guilty for being human. The truth is, ‘that girl’ doesn’t show you the messy parts of her life. She hides the breakdowns and the breakups, doesn’t show you the extent of hard work that goes into shooting those morning routine videos, and forgets to mention that the clothes were part of a barter collaboration. ‘That girl’ carefully frames a narrative that makes you either want her or want to be her.
Other trends, such as the ‘daily reminder that social media is fake‘ trend, focus on celebrating human flaws and all the physical insecurities social media users try to hide. These serve as a juxtaposition, reminding viewers that even ‘that girl’ is like you. While we all claim to be aware that social media is not real and applaud those who upload unedited, no-filter images, when it comes to ourselves, we find it impossible to find that same compassion.
It’s not all that girl’s fault, though. She is simply a cog in the social media machine. The real culprit is the algorithm created to keep consumers hooked and fuel their daily mindless scrolling. Studies have shown that endless likes, shares, and retweets on social media platforms give users the same dopamine release as gambling and consuming drugs. Algorithms make use of this easy addiction and curate your feed in a way that repeatedly exhibits content of the same niche. They reinforce the ideas and feelings of positive or negative self-evaluation that the content elicits.
Influencers leverage the idea of relatability and aspiration to construct an online persona that will be liked and replicated by their audiences to sell branded products. A study shows approximately 80% of consumers have made purchases based on influencer recommendations. Consumers are more likely to adhere to a peer recommendation than a brand advertisement and require social proof when making purchase decisions. One tends to forget that these influencers run businesses driven by a profit-oriented approach. Brands are becoming more and more aware of how to manipulate a consumer’s buying habits through influencer marketing. It is a consumer’s right to be made aware of these practices and their responsibility to ask for more information.
At the single click of a button comes both the ease of following and unfollowing these pages. But aspiring to these lifestyles, watching this content, and repeatedly scrolling become habits one can’t forego. There is a rising herd mentality and aimless following that social media breeds. Are you losing your individuality? Is everyone slowly morphing into the most viewed social media personas, or is there still hope to escape the hypnosis of mindless consumption?
You are the content you consume because the content, in the form of other people’s preferences, videos, and the level of familiarity, becomes the basis for your decisions. Technology allows access to a global audience, known and unknown, and suggests everything right from friends to books and music. The consumer now believes that if everyone is doing it, it must be right. We have become so dIgitally desensitized to the world outside our screens. If we take a step back, we can see that we have lost sight of what’s real and not.
Maahira Jain is a third-year student at Ashoka University studying Psychology and Media studies. She is a movie buff and is extremely passionate about writing and travelling.
Reya Daya is a third-year student, studying psychology and media studies at Ashoka University. Her other interests include writing, photography and music.
Picture Credits: Unsplash
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