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Is being ‘liked’ on social media a bad thing?

We’re now so used to Facebook and other forms of social media, for many people it’s the primary way of keeping in touch with others. Forget text, phone calls or email, social media has become a one-stop shop for communicating with your mates and a place to make new ones.

So social media is great. It allows us to talk, see and share. It allows us to become part of a community, connects us with people in far flung parts of the planet, and we can see what’s going on in the world.  We can see instantly what our mates are up to, where they’ve been and what they’re doing. But I’ve always suspected that there’s an inevitable downside to all this, and wondered whether social media can, if not used in a balanced sort of way, do more harm than good.

A recent article in The Daily Telegraph said this:

A poll of those using the technology found more than half of those surveyed said the sites had changed their behaviour – and half of those said their lives had been altered for the worse. Most commonly, those who suffered a negative impact from social media said their confidence fell after comparing their own achievements to those of friends online. Two-thirds said they found it hard to relax completely or to sleep after spending time on the sites. And one quarter of those polled said they had been left facing difficulties in their relationships or workplace after becoming confrontational online.

So why is this? Why can social media sometimes make us feel anxious?

You know what it’s like. You’re sitting in your living room one night doing bugger all. You feel a bit bored and a bit down in the dumps, so you go onto Facebook to see what everyone else is up to. You see your mates in a pub or at a club or at a gig or hanging out with other mates… and suddenly you feel that your life isn’t as special or as fun or as interesting as your friends’ laugh-a-minute, fun-time lives. I believe this is what the kids these days refer to as FOMO (fear of missing out).

I’ve been there; we’ve all been there. You just have to check yourself and say, “you know what? I can’t go out every night. I financially and physically can’t manage it. And it’s ok if other people are having fun and I’m sitting here on my sofa watching telly. I’ll be going out and having fun in few nights’ time.”

The Telegraph article also quotes Nicky Lidbetter, Anxiety UK’s chief executive: “If you are predisposed to anxiety it seems that the pressures from technology act as a tipping point, making people feel more insecure and more overwhelmed.”

You know if you do start to feel anxious or envious of your mates it’s time to turn the phone or tablet off and turn on the TV, eat a meal, read a book or just enjoy being you in the there and now. I always try and do that if social media is getting me down.

But when you do go out, have fun and want to share your exploits, what happens then? It can open another can of worms.

Instagram is my social media weakness. I take loads of pictures and feel almost validated when someone likes my stuff. On a good day dozens might like one of my images. I then want to post more images and get more likes because someone liking something of mine online means that I feel liked in general. Conversely, if someone doesn’t like one of my images or a facebook post or whatever, I sometimes feel disappointed.

This ace article in the Wall Street Journal hit the nail on the head for me:

Just as stand-up comedians are trained to be funny by observing which of their lines and expressions are greeted with laughter, so too are our thoughts online molded to conform to popular opinion by these buttons. A status update that is met with no likes (or a clever tweet that isn’t retweeted) becomes the equivalent of a joke met with silence. And so we don’t show our true selves online, but a mask designed to conform to the opinions of those around us.

Conversely, when we’re looking at someone else’s content—whether a video or a news story—we are able to see first how many people liked it and, often, whether our friends liked it. And so we are encouraged not to form our own opinion but to look to others for cues on how to feel.

“Like” culture is antithetical to the concept of self-esteem, which a healthy individual should be developing from the inside out rather than from the outside in. 

The key thing to remember is that social media and real life aren’t one and the same. Our online presence is often a different version of our real-life selves. Sometimes it’s a more confident, brasher version; sometimes it isn’t. What we need to remember is that just because someone doesn’t like a Facebook post or Instagram image or retweet something you said on Twitter, doesn’t mean you’re not liked out there in the real world.

In some ways, it’s a good lesson to learn if one of your status updates or an image doesn’t get a load of likes or shares. In my experience, if that lack of likes annoys you it’s time to switch things off and engage in the real world, where the energy of being with other people and doing normal things are just as gratifying as a long lost friend from primary school liking your holiday snaps.

Photo by Sean MacEntee, license here


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