The Dark Side of Social Media
By ALI CUDBY
I’ve been thinking about social media marketing a lot lately. As something I use in my business as a tool, social media marketing can be great. I share blog posts, pictures of my life or random thoughts that are seen by friends and clients around the world in an instant. Awesome.
At the same time, I’m increasingly troubled by the dark side of social media. The other day I came across a video on Buzzfeed that showcased the impact of social media, and how it’s both helpful and hurtful.
A young woman with significant acne posted pictures of herself without makeup. She received over 100,000 comments about her face, mostly negative. Gross, ewww, disgusting and horrible were a few of the words people wrote about her. Not the worst, mind you.
The same woman then posted images of herself fully made up. When made up, she was lauded as “amazing” and “beautiful” but also shot down for being misleading, falsely advertising, and (again), gross. The video showed how the woman’s experience became a source of inspiration for others who had also felt ashamed of their acne and other skin conditions. Social media at its best and worst.
For me, the video highlighted two main issues.
First, for all the good in social media, women are being shamed for their looks All. The. Time. No matter what women do, there’s some troll who will hide behind the anonymity of the Internet and hurl invective in their direction. Or worse, seemingly “helpful” comments that cut just as deep. Even women with the best self-esteem can be challenged by such negative commentary, and most women don’t have the best self-esteem.
Seeing negative comments about other people can be a trigger, too, leading women to think, “hey, if SHE is getting blowback for being too fat/thin/ugly/slutty then just imagine what people would say about me. In comparison I’m fatter/thinner/uglier/sluttier.” Thinking like that becomes a self-perpetuating shame spiral.
It’s not helped by the second issue, namely, that social media creates false personas I see as dangerous for women and girls’ self-image.
Social media profiles are not an accurate reflection of real lives. When we constantly see the seemingly perfect, photoshopped, highlight-reel versions of people’s lives, it’s easy to feel like our fully fleshed out, real, imperfect lives are falling short. From there, it’s a quick hop to the fearful thought that WE are not enough. Nothing good happens in the “not enough” place. Yes, there is a positive side to social media, but a single negative message is far more powerful than many positive ones. Research shows people need 4-6 positive messages to counterbalance every negative message.
When I think of the impact on girls and teenagers, who are still forming opinions of themselves in the world, the impact of social media on self-esteem goes from discouraging to terrifying.
I’m left pondering this wrenching question – how are women going to develop the positive self-image needed to believe we are enough when we are surrounded by increasingly personal, negative messages?