Choice and Philosophy Kushay's Matter Bank

[AK] How Social Media Negatively Affects Personal Lives by Boby

This one is rather straightforward so let’s get straight to the points. This article is written by Boby Andika Ruitang.


We’re all going to die at some point, so we’re told to live life to the fullest. We all strive to be the best versions of ourselves and do something meaningful with our lives. We have life goals, we make vision boards, we even create a timeline that lays out what milestones we should achieve by the time we are of a certain age. Furthermore, we set such benchmarks by looking at the people around us: our parents, our friends, our idols we see on television. They inspire us on what life path we should pursue that’ll eventually lead us to our happiness.
But in the era of social media, they make me feel shitty about myself.

Friends and peers upload a curated portfolio of themselves on social media: celebrating the milestones they’ve achieved, awards they’ve won, finding the love of their lives, being accepted in a prestigious company/university, travelling across the world, and the list goes on. On one hand, you’re happy for them because your friends are doing so well. (Also, you *have* to be happy for them, because that’s what a good friend does). But on the other hand, you feel this sharp pang in your chest, a mixture of resentment and disappointment directed at yourself, sometimes spiced up with a sprinkle of rage and a dash of jealousy.

What the fuck am I doing with my life? — is the constant devilish question that lingers. Why am I not like that? Why can’t I be like that? What’s wrong with me? — and the floodgates of self-doubt burst open like there’s no tomorrow. To be perfectly frank, I’d like to think that I have a pretty good life. I like my job, I have amazing friends who always brighten up my days, and I’m proud of the things I’ve achieved. But social media makes me feel like those things don’t fucking matter. That it’s not good enough. And that it will never be. And that I should never settle for what I have, but to always be in competition with this imaginary perfect version of myself, constructed from all the things I’m not and all the things my social media friends are. I’m socially conditioned to never be satisfied and always want for more. I became so ungrateful for all the blessings that I have and so preoccupied in the things I don’t have.

Sure, you won an award, but your Facebook friends have won *better* and *more* awards. Sure, your circle of friends are great, but your social media friends are always having a good time as evidenced by them smiling ear-to-ear in their constant Snapchat stories. Sure, your ideas are smart, but it doesn’t get as much ReTweets as your friends’ witty tweets. Sure, you have a nice job, but your social media friends get to eat at fancy places you only get to see on their Instagram photos.

Before social media, the only time I have to worry about being compared to or have my life choices scrutinized is during extended family holiday gatherings. Aunties and uncles would get all nosy and ask things like my job, my love life, when will I marry and have children, etc. Those encounters were way more bearable because I can easily opt out from those annoying conversations, and they hold very little social pressure. I can walk away from the gathering with my self-worth intact until the next time I have to see them again.

With social media, it’s really difficult not to make comparatives because everyone there always seems so happy and having the time of their lives while you’re just… average. So to make up for being mediocre, I start to overcompensate by posting up my own carefully curated life portfolio — and this is where the evil cycle continues.


When you interact with others in real life, it’s quite hard to hide your self (I’m putting a space between ‘your’and ‘self’ because I’m talking about self as the psychological concept). No matter how good of an actor you are or how trained you are in putting on a mask, people can pick up on your personality and guesstimate what kind of person you are. There are subconscious cues and indicators we send out to the world that gives away who we really are underneath. This lack of control over our image often scares us, because we don’t want to make a bad or wrong impression.

Social media becomes the ultimate band-aid for self-image woes. We now have editorial control over our brand, something that was previously unavailable to us. We can selectively choose which photos to upload, which articles to share, what status updates to post, and more importantly, we can make them congruent to the image we want people to see us as. “You can be anyone on the internet”, is what they used to say. This can’t be any truer in today’s world. Look at Taylor Swift: she’s the epitome of a carefully calculated and curated self-branding in the age of social media — the innocent country girl with love problems who finally finds strength and comfort through her female #squad friends.

For me personally, it’s about being this “fun and witty liberal outspoken global citizen” persona. I post personal day-to-day experiences on Facebook, with puns or punchlines which I consider to be funny. I even dedicate quite some time to craft witty captions for my Instagram photos, because apparently pictures can no longer speak a thousand words when in competition with hashtags.

Furthermore, I became very vocal on many issues — initially only on the ones I have strong convictions and personal attachments over, but now I speak out on almost everything, because a liberal person *must* care about *everything* that’s going on in the world. Furthermore, I become susceptible to moral grandstanding, influenced by the bandwagon effect: if I don’t speak up about this or have a similar reaction with the rest of my peers, I am a terrible liberal. It’s all about self-presentation, re-branding myself to fit the image I’ve set. My real-life personality must now adapt to it, because consistency must be maintained to preserve a sense of authenticity (or as they call it these days: performative allyship).

You know what’s really ironic about all this, though? In the effort to create a ‘me’ that is independent of social expectations, I’ve managed to make a ‘me’ that is wholly defined by what others do think about. A lot of who I am on social media is a result of trial-and-error, testing out what my friends respond to. Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, I can quantify that by the number of Likes and ReTweets I get when posting something. When a post receives fewer Likes, that means my audience isn’t responding well to that facet of me and that it really isn’t a likable feature I should highlight. So I shift my persona until I find one that is more suitable (and receives more responses). My main goal in posting shifted from expressing to impressing.

Once I’ve created the close-to-perfect persona, I simply can’t stop using social media. I’ve invested so much time developing my cyber self which makes me feel good about myself. If I stop posting about what I’m doing or what I’m eating, people might think I don’t have a life. I need to project my brand, that I too am leading a happy life. If I stop engaging, I might miss out on something important. The FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) phenomenon is very real, folks. There’s some sort of pain we feel when we’re disconnected with others and social media amplifies that pain.


There are a lot of manipulations that both we and other parties commit on social media, but none is more severe than the emotional manipulations. Mass media has always known that people respond to controversial headlines because it’ll definitely attract attention. Social media has helped them more by making clickbaits into the mainstream. Just look at the title of this piece — people would’ve guessed that I was on drugs or something.

Whenever we’re exposed to a stimulus, our brain registers a number of possible responses that we can do, but some responses have a bigger advantage to be displayed. After all, we are still biological beings with instincts and reflexes encoded in our DNA, which (often times than not) lead the way we respond to our environment. Social media often showcases of extreme stimuli (e.g.: photos of dead people, headlines about human right violations) and my reaction would most likely be visceral and filled with emotions: anger, disgust, sadness — all jumbled up into one. This disables me from looking at issues from a different lens, because my reasoning abilities are overwhelmed with the overload of emotions flowing.

In the age of social media, people easily gets so upset over posts, news, even memes that others post. While I do believe that those reactions are often justified because not everyone online is saints and angels, we’ve come to a point where we’re hypersensitive about things (or as people call it these days — easily triggered). Well, at least that’s how I feel I’ve become. There can’t be room for nuance, because that means I’m excusing some horrible things and that’s just a slippery slope away from excusing *all* horrible things. Fake news and fearmongering easily thrive from this, because we’ve become so reactionary, it’s so easy to believe in things that confirm our worldview.

What social media adds to the equation is the element of security in numbers. When your peers share the same articles or voice out the same convictions, you feel secure. That you’re not the only person thinking that way. That you’re not crazy, because others feeling the same way is evidence that this is beyond your private imagination. Social media creates this bubble where your emotions validate other people and their emotions validate you. It puts you in an echo chamber where you are not only convinced that you are correct, but also those who argue otherwise are wrong and the enemy.

What makes social media worse is that people seem to lose a sense of basic human decency and decorum when engaging with others. Look at doom threads on Facebook — it’s all people typing in comments, giving their two cents, trying to disprove each other’s points, often with a selection of vulgarities to accentuate their feelings. Would you say the things you say on Facebook if you were talking to the person directly instead? Unlikely, I imagine.

The absence of a person’s physical presence makes it so much easier to dehumanize them. They’re all just usernames with an avatar, somewhere far away. You can paint them with all the colorful adjectives you have in your vocabulary, because you don’t have to see their faces when you say those things. You don’t have to care about the consequences or impacts they suffer from what you say, because it’s all about *your* freedom of speech and *your* emotions. The ability to empathize goes down the drain, just like that.

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