Earlier this November, Essena O’Neill, former Australian model and Instagram star quit social media, saying it “isn’t real” and posting a video explaining how social media has limited the way she lives her life and reduced her worth to just her looks, leading to an obsession with views, likes and approval. She then edited her Instagram captions, revealing how much effort it took to portray a seeming effortless, yet perfect life. Although the video raised several important issues in admirable transparency (major props for speaking up!), it also helped perpetuate the idea that social media is inherently bad. The way Essena used her platforms is different from the way the average person uses it, so to take her words as a universal truth is kind of unfair. While she was paid to post sponsored content, most of us have a lot more control over our platforms.
Social media has been blamed for a lot of things in the past–FOMO (fear of missing out), the spread of STIs (yes,really), making us less social and even “ruining children”–and is always accompanied by a negative connotation. Social media platforms have built a negative reputation for themselves, often being used as a way to seek validation by creating an idealized version of life, a gallery of carefully fabricated photos and though-out tweets (or on the flip side, completely irrational and impulsive ones). However, many people fail to acknowledge the fact that people and the way they use social media are more to blame than the tool itself, and fail to appreciate the positive side of social media.
Social networking helps bring up topics that aren’t talked about enough in real life, whether that’s because they’re considered controversial or awkward or taboo. It gives everyone a voice, allowing them to project their voices to a much larger audience, sharing their thoughts and giving their insight which would’ve never been heard otherwise. While “real life” media limits headlines and warps them to serve a region’s biases, social media opens the door to an entire world’s worth of media coverage, whether they’re reported by online magazines and news sources or average individuals. Not to mention social media’s significant contribution to communication, from instant messaging to Skyping someone on the other side of the world, transforming the way we communicate in both professional and personal lives. It allows us to document our favorite moments, not in an attempt to stir envy, but to simply capture happy, precious moments forever. Platforms like Twitter and Tumblr have built great communities based on common interests (e.g. fandoms) and started positive, supportive movements (like #BodyPosi), and branch off to form friendships with like-minded individuals.
Conclusion? Social media is best used as a source of inspiration, motivation, happiness, positivity, support and information, rather than envy, negativity and vanity.