FAKEBOOK - Dr Linda Papadopoulos on the dangers of life on social media
The psychologist explains why despite our online relationships 'flourishing', our reality is suffering.
FOUNDED twelve years ago, social media website Facebook came along and changed the world. Around 1.4 billion of us log on every month checking our newsfeed, posting pictures, messaging friends and just generally being nosy.
Over the years, the way Facebook works has changed dramatically. It's gone from being a network for university and college students, to an social sharing platform available to everybody. As we’ve grown up with Facebook our behaviour and the way in which we use it has changed. Our Newsfeeds have gone from posting witty status updates and creating personal photo albums to being filled with friends’ baby pictures, engagement announcements and daft videos. Many of us now use Facebook to show everyone how great our life is – whether that’s showing off a new car, boasting about an upcoming holiday or declaring our love for our partner.
If someone bumps into you in the street you’re not going to think it’s because maybe they’re in a hurry because their kid’s sick, you’re going to think they’re an a**hole
While our online relationships appear to be flourishing, it’s our social lives in reality are suffering. “It’s the idea that we’re the star of our own movie”, explains psychologist and author Dr. Linda Papadopoulos. “We see the world from our own perspective. If someone bumps into you in the street you’re not going to think it’s because maybe they’re in a hurry because their kid’s sick, you’re going to think they’re an a**hole for bumping into you. Online, we now get a lot of feedback to there’s an amplified feeling of self-awareness, we’re posting for Likes and ReTweets as it, very sadly, becomes an indicator of our worth”.
Our state of mind determines how we use social media, and what sort of things we post – which is often why people portray a warped version of reality. Dr. Papadopoulos says we subconsciously have other people in mind when we’re uploading something to Facebook: “We tend to surf more when we’re low, meaning we compare ourselves when we’re feeling like sh*t, yet we post things when we feel good about ourselves. An example might be, I’ll post when I’m eating at a Michelin star restaurant but I’ll just surf and observe when I’m at home eating leftover pizza. The other thing is the press release-style of social media where it’s like you’re being asked, ‘what are you doing now?’ and you think you need to manage someone’s beliefs of how you’re doing in life, so it’s not surprising that people fake-brag, or post things that they feel others will be impressed with”.
Back in 2004, when Facebook was new and exciting, we’d get a buzz from finding old school friends, former work colleagues and even ex-partners online. Fast-forward to 2016 and those pools of people have all but dried up, so what we do now is try to impress our online pals with how well we’re doing, rather than take such a big interest in what they’ve been up to. Smartphones and tablets have made it easier than ever to take and upload photos and videos where ever we are in the world, no matter what we’re doing. The rise of Instagram has made sharing photos and videos, which are enhanced with filters to make them look better than they are, on Facebook incredibly easy too. Easier doesn’t always mean more effective though.
In 2014, Facebook saw 11 million teenagers flee the social network, with more and more users growing tired of the site
In 2014, Facebook saw 11 million teenagers flee the social network, with more and more users growing tired of the site. Popular social media platforms like Twitter, Snapchat, Periscope and Vine have given Facebook users other options and other ways to communicate with those online. While Facebook allowed you to interact with people you know, or perhaps met once on a night out, newer apps have come along and let us interact with people we don’t know, opening the door to building an audience and following. “Facebook has changed over the last 5 years from updating people about what they’re up to, from sharing those inspirational or funny quotes to a more competitive landscape. A type of, ‘my kung-fu is better than your kung-fu’”, says Neurolinguistic programming practitioner and social media expert Daniel Latto.
“Facebook is a place to share anecdotes, jokes and motivational quotes. Real life isn’t quite like that, however. When was the last time you met someone and said something motivational?” Latto asks. “Even if you are an upbeat soul, it’s impossible to feel upbeat 100 percent of the time. So when you see positivity on someone’s Facebook Wall, you fail to see the challenges going on behind the scenes.” Indeed, people seldom share their bad news on social media, and why would they? People take joy in seeing others thriving, why would they be interested in negativity, right? Wrong. Two years ago Latto packed up his old life and moved to Spain, where he began posting beautiful photos of the ocean and picturesque sunsets to Facebook, the sort of thing you’d think his friends would love to see. In fact, his idyllic new life was too much for some and within six months he was ‘unfriended’ by over 500 people. “A number of times I’ve thought about quitting”, he admits. “It’s increasingly becoming one-way traffic. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone is suddenly an expert, despite having no experience, or knowledge, about the thing they’re commenting on.
The negative comments can eventually wear you down”. Online bullying or ‘trolling’ has risen as people have grown more confident in their sharing their thoughts online. Shareable content and trending stories on Facebook invite users to comment on, well, anything, no matter who you are or what your opinion is. This means you’re opening yourself up to criticism with everything you post. It’s not only negativity that’s making people quit Facebook, but irrelevant posts appearing in our timelines, such as your friend has been friends with someone, who you don’t know, for a number of years, and for some reason Facebook has decided to let you know of their anniversary. Retargeted adverts, which appear on your timeline, so if you’re searching for a Chanel handbag online Facebook will know this and serve you with some handbag-related promotions it thinks you’ll be interested in. “We’ve all become more open and less concerned with our privacy”, says Facebook consultant Jonathan Pollinger. “We are also more trusting and will soon be buying products directly from within Facebook”. In other words, Facebook is slowly becoming more of an online store than a social media network.
So why do any of us use it at all? There’s a good chance you don’t sit in front of it on your laptop searching for people from your past like we used to. Pollinger thinks Facebook is a modern day way of ‘keeping up with the Jones’’’, as it were. “We all have a human need to express ourselves and Facebook allows us to do that really easily. We also have an innate sense of curiosity of ‘what’s going on the village’? So we do care what others are doing…up to a point.” Pollinger goes on to say, that it’s not merely enough just to ‘keep up’ with people, but to better them, which is why there’s so much Facebook fakery. “Three main elements can be fake – Profiles, Posts and Page Fans. Spammers will create fake profiles in order to promote products and there’s a whole industry around ‘fake fans’ and fake profiles, which are used to build audiences.
I myself decided to take a break from Facebook to see if I could live without it, and to see if anyone would even notice I was gone. It wasn’t until my birthday rolled around, three weeks into my absence, that I got a text from someone asking if I’d deleted it. Another friend spotted I was gone and sent me a message via Instagram instead. When I told her I’d quit Facebook she told me she had too back in 2009 following a bad break up with her ex-boyfriend, but re-joined having gotten over her heartbreak. On the whole though no-one really noticed I was gone, let alone sent a message to see what I was up to. I got the impression no one cared, so after a month without Facebook, I re-joined and asked my 418 Facebook friends to help me out with a problem. I posted a Status asking if anyone with a car was free at some point during the week, for a few hours, to help me move some stuff. I even offered to repay them with beer or wine. A fairly reasonable question to ask my ‘friends’ I thought.
In response, one person asked where I was moving to and another made a joke my stuff not fitting into a Lamborghini, in reference to a picture I posted a few months ago of me trying to fit a suitcase into a supercar (does that make me guilty of showing off online?). Later that evening I did receive a private message from a friend, who I see once a year when everyone returns home for Christmas, offering to lend me his work van. In theory, for this particular request, I only needed one person to offer to help for it work for it to be successful, however, out of over 418 people, only one actually offered to help. Why was that? Dr. Papadopoulos has an answer. “There’s a social norm which isn’t really written anywhere yet but we all kind of adhere to, so when something new comes along like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc., it takes a while to establish the normal behaviour on there, because they’re new so your visibility is less”. So because it was a request issued to everyone I know on Facebook, it was easier to ignore and so people were less likely to respond to it. If I’d sent them a text or called them they’d have been more inclined to reply – even if they weren’t going to offer help. Of course, there’s a chance that people simply didn’t see my Status but it’s unlikely the 415 who didn’t reply all missed it.
I understood though. If someone posted a similar Status asking for help, there’s a good chance I’d behave in the same way and ignore it too. So I tried something more personal. I sent a private message to 154 random people on my ‘Friends’ list. It read, “Alright! Haven’t spoken to you in ages! How’s it going? I’m around your neck of the woods next week if you wanna catch up for a drink?” So rather than asking for a favour, this time I was asking my ‘friends’ if they’d be up for catching up to chat about old times. As expected, with a more personal message, the response rate was a lot higher even though not all the replies were positive. Depressingly three girls replied with the same message, just worded differently. They read:
“I’m slightly confused or just overly tired, but how do I know you again?” asks the sister of a guy I went to school with.
“Hi! God this sounds awful but whereeee do I know you from nick?! Lols”, replied a girl I met on a night out once.
“Hiya this is gunna sound really rude of me but where do I no u from? Lol x,” said a girl I once worked with.
At least I was getting replies, and to my surprise some people who I’ve not spoken to, or seen, in years were up for meeting up without hesitation. My favourite acceptance was: “Hey! Good to hear from u… That would b lovely! How come you are coming out here to Jerusalem?” Overall 70 people replied, 54 of who said they’d be up for a drink, 84 haven’t replied.
With social media such a big part of our lives now, it’s hard to get away from it even if you delete your accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram etc. It’s consuming, and we often read into what we see far more than we should. On Facebook we live through a sort of third person version of ourselves where we’re more self-critical of things we see and do, in fear of what people will think if we post it online. Just because people weren’t rushing to help me move house doesn’t mean I don’t have friends who would offer a hand, but seeing such little response to my request on Facebook could easily get me down if I let it. It’s the same when we don’t get enough Likes on our photos or Retweets on Twitter.
Dr. Linda Papadopoulos believes caring less about what those online think and more about what we think goes a long way to boosting our self-esteem and is why people are turning their back on sites such as Facebook: “When you start doing things just for yourself, you connect, not only with the world around you but also with your own passions, and I think that’s key for knowing who you are”. Luckily for me, I don’t actually have to borrow my friend’s van to pack my house up and move but I am now packing my bag for a drink in Jerusalem.
- Over 1 billion people have a Facebook account
- The most common age demographic is 25 to 34 who make up 29.7% of total Facebook users
- Facebook users are 80% female and 73% male
- There are 83 million fake profiles
- 50% of 18-24 year-olds go on Facebook when they wake up
- The average user spends over 20 minutes a day on Facebook
- The average teenager has 300 Facebook Friends