Social media inclines students to make detrimental comparisons, both socially and academically. Students today are beginning to use Facebook and other social networking platforms as an alternate reality; an escape from their hectic, daily lives. However, while others are boasting about their impeccable midterm grades and posting pictures from weekend extravaganzas, some students find themselves becoming more critical of their own being. This “look-at-what-I’m-doing” culture is being steamrolled onto young adults today and is, consequently, leaving them with feelings of envy and pressure to measure up to the lives of others around them. People, naturally, feel an ingrained urge to want to please others – it’s in our nature. Not only are social networking sites considered a main source for students’ anxiety and depression, but these effects are exacerbated by the quantification of approval and validation from likes, favorites, and comments on posts.
“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” – Steve Furtick
Reality is lost on social media. People are consistently showcasing their “best version” of themselves, which is why it is so exceptionally unhealthy to compare aspects of your own life to someone else’s edited authenticity. In the 1950’s, this phenomenon was brought to life by psychologist Leon Festinger; the “social-comparison theory”. He argued that people get a sense of self-fulfillment and cognitive clarity by comparing their own lives to the lives of others. Many comparisons made by college students involve the feeling that someone else is ‘better’ in a certain aspect, also referred to as an upward comparison. For example, a student who assumes their academic competence level is less than that of another’s may very well see their self-esteem decline as a result. Additionally, scanning Instagram profiles under the assumption that these images are an accurate representation of every day life is an even more destructive technique. “Social media is basically social comparison on steroids,” says Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist and psychology professor at California State University (LaVine 1). Our lives are molded as a result of the comparisons these platforms harbor. Instead of taking advantage of the expressional outlet that social networking embodies, we are handing over all of our power; allowing these websites to define whether we, as individuals, are “good enough” or not.
Typically, people suffering from a mental illness such as depression or anxiety are depicted as being bed-ridden and incapable of normal function, but the truth is that not everyone experiences or handles these disorders in the same way. In fact, depression can resemble a myriad of events. For those who suffer with a disorder like depression, social media can serve as an outlet for support and expression where other platforms cannot. But, like most things, can easily get out of hand. A fictional novel by Kimberly McCreight boasts a quote saying, “Sometimes it’s hard to tell how fast the current’s moving until you’re headed over a waterfall.” This book was one of the gifts Madison Holleran, a University of Pennsylvania student, left for her parents just before taking a running leap off the ninth level of a parking garage near her campus, ending her life. She was 19 years old.
On social media, Madison seemed to be the hallmark of what every young girl aspires to be; beautiful, talented, successful. However, day in and day out, she battled her own mind and its stark contrast to reality. The life she projected on her Instagram feed portrayed a vivacity not found in herself. Time’s have changed radically in the recent decades, and it is no longer possible to avoid social networking in its entirety. We are left to consume one another’s edited lives while we hasten, unfazed, through our own. Perception is everything in the world of social media.