The Power of a Like

Sarah James weighs in on our addiction to social media.

Social media is a drug.

A hardcore, dangerous addiction.

Unlike most drugs or addictive substances though, there are no limitations to access (unless your internet provider is Telstra).

From a millennials perspective, what seemed to start off as just a MySpace page has grown into a web of different ways to connect: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr Google+, LinkedIn, Youtube, Pinterest, Vimeo, Flickr.

The reason I compare social media to a drug, is that like drugs, there is a dark side. A dark side that is too often neglected in favour of snapchat filters and cat videos. For the past decade we have heard about countless instances of online bullying and the tragic consequences. In spite of this, we continue to connect and post highly personal content over social media everyday.

We know the facts. We know how quickly an image can go viral. We know the possibility for social media to ruin lives. So why do we still constantly update our status?

Last year Australian social media mogul Essena O’Neill made headlines when she quit social media. It was only recently though that I truly understood the reasoning behind her decision. I wouldn’t call myself a social media addict. I don’t have Snapchat or Instagram, a fact which is frequently met with shock and further questioning, like my life must be lacking in some way. How could I not have these ‘necessary’ apps? I am guilty of checking Facebook at least every half hour. If I leave my phone at home I feel anxious. I don’t enjoy feeling this way though. Louis C.K. provides an incredibly relevant commentary on how with the rise of smartphones, we’ve lost the ability to just sit and ‘be’ (video provided below).

Video via Team Coco.

One night I ventured into uncharted territory. Typically I’m not one to provide much of an opinion online, generally just engaging with it on a trivial basis e.g. to find out if Liam Hemsworth is actually studying at UON. But on this particular evening while procrastinating, I witnessed an argument breakout on a large community group page, and decided to weigh in my opinion. It wasn’t extreme or remotely controversial, and was what I believe raised some valid points that had not previously  been considered.

The response I was met with shocked me, although, in reality it really shouldn’t have. I was met with a barrage of criticisms. Wild accusations about my character and values were left in the comments. These people were complete strangers – their opinion shouldn’t affect me. This is easier said than done though. That night I struggled to sleep, and their hurtful comments resonated enough with me to trigger this article.

I seriously question the power social media has over our esteem. Why do we get that sudden rush of gratification when someone likes our photo? It is in no way a reflection of the quality of the photo, but for some reason it’s vitally important to get a socially acceptable number of likes. And when we don’t, why are we left feeling deflated? I am adamant that the culture and addiction regarding social media needs to change.

Former Yak writer turned professional social media expert Melissa Wilson, took it upon herself to create a group that actively counteracts the negative effects of social media. In the interests of confidentiality, the group will remain anonymous.

Wilson describes the group as, “A community of people that are united by common interests and genuine care for each other.”

“At the moment we’re in the process of reassessing how many members we add per month and ensuring the group stays as safe, secure and positive as it can. It’s a pretty difficult task in a way! Just like in the real world, the group has people from all backgrounds, opinions and world views and it’s unnatural to expect harmony at all times. But the overarching tone of care and compassion for one another is why I really created it!”

She further weighed in on her overall opinion of social media.

“The way social media can affect a person is literally endless. It can unite people but it can also isolate people. It really depends on what sort of content you consume and engage with and how often you engage with it, in my opinion.”

At the end of the day, to paraphrase social media queen Taylor Swift, we have to assess whether the high is worth the pain. Maybe it is for the best to have a blank space.

 

Feature Image: Sean MacEntee