Love it or hate it – social media is here to stay.
But, is it really social in the true sense of the word? I’m not sure. Am I connected with more people by using Facebook and Instagram? Yes. Would I have been able to maintain as many relationships; staying connected with people all over the world without using these apps? Not as easily. So on that basis, I guess I am more sociable.
Right now, we are being told not to socialise. To stay in doors. Which makes these apps a lifeline for so many people. They are filling the social distancing gap and stopping vulnerable people from feeling so alone. For Chris and I not much has changed. Living in the Caribbean, we relied on social apps to stay apart of our friends and families daily lives. So after a few years, socialising this way became our new normal.
If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it’s appreciation for seeing our friends and family in person. It’s made us question if social media had been stopping us from practising the skills necessary for real human interaction.
Another very unsocial aspect of social media is the obtrusive notifications that distract us from actual conversation. We’ve all done it – lost our train of thought because of something we’ve seen pop up on our screen. Are notifications healthy? A few years ago I turned off all beeps and banners because I started to feel like a slave to my phone. Is there such a thing as over communicating? I think so, I hated the way I was so accessible to everyone all of the time! I turned off features that could show what time I was last online because my friends were getting agitated that I had read a message but not responded. When did socialising get so stressful?
As a woman of thirty, I think I can say this next bit without sounding ancient! Everyone is looking down at their phones and missing real life! Whether it be when walking down the street or talking to a friend. No one is present anymore! And I think that is where the psychological dangers lie. A lot of people are living through their social media. They compare the quality of life after viewing a small glimpse of someone else’s (usually a strangers). Something we all forget from time to time – what people post online is 1% of their day. Most of us just show the good bits online because people turn to social media for light-hearted, uplifting content. We don’t put on the boring stuff because well, it’s boring. We all know this but it doesn’t stop us questioning if we are living as well as our virtual friends. Maybe that’s a good thing? Maybe it inspires and motivates people to live their best lives? But I know for some it can make them stop sharing all together – feeling unable to ‘compete’.
My last observation of ‘unsocial media’ is how we all feel like we already know everything that has happened to our friends or family – because we’ve been following their social media. It gives us a false impression of how they are doing, so we feel less inclined to reach out and check that they are OK. And similarly to this when we do see our loved ones in person there can sometimes be a lack of something to say to one another. Or just as you start to tell them something they say: “Oh yeah I saw it on your social media”. End of conversation.
By the time social media was part of our daily lives, picture quality on our devices was no longer comfortably pixilated. Instead we found ourselves FaceTiming in high definition! (Quick! Where’s my selfie stick?) Are you ready for your close up? No? Me either! No one was! So it’s really no surprise that with dual-lens camera systems, 12-megapixel wide-angle lenses and 26mm focal length we were all feeling slightly self conscious!
Today, using a filter is considered normal and a big part of our social media experience. We don’t need to worry about high-definition cameras anymore because we can use a filter to smooth our skin and even give us a sun kissed glow if we’re feeling fancaay. Once, this type of digital enhancement was only available to marketing or photography professionals. Now it’s accessible to everyone at the touch of a button.
Last year, I lost my iPhone X to the Caribbean Sea and got stung by a jelly fish whilst hopelessly searching for it. (Not my best moment!) Luckily a friend of mine said I could borrow their old phone – a Samsung. I’ve always loved the picture quality on Samsung devices, so I was looking forward to taking some high definition skin-positive selfies. What I didn’t realise was Samsung has shooting features that you don’t get with iPhone – Beauty mode. But even more upsetting for me is that it activates by default when using the front facing camera, including options to make your face look slimmer and your eyes look bigger. How did I not know this?! And more importantly are there any parental restrictions on this feature?
After my disappointing Samsung discovery, I was horrified to learn during isolation, that Zoom also uses a beauty enhancement setting by default. How many other applications are filtering the way we look without us even realising? Knowing the affect this has on our mental health, do we still want it?
Admittedly I find filters fun – especially Instagram’s dog filter! But using this filter as an example, why does the skin need to be smoothed? Can’t we have fun filters without our ‘imperfections’ being erased? Apart from skin being misrepresented in this filter, it can be used without psychological harm. No one is going to use this filter so much that they believe they are actually a dog. But can the same be said for beauty enhancement filters? With the average person spending around two and a half hours on social media each day, over-exposure to this type of filter has given us a very warped perception of what beauty is, creating an extremely self-critical generation.
So in this new filtered world, how do we define beauty? Well, to answer that we need to look to where this all started and that’s back to magazine culture. Beauty = thin, airbrushed, pore-less models/celebrities. It’s seems crazy to me that the media is still dictating the definition of beauty! If you follow me on my social channels, you will know that I created the hashtag #poresnotflaws to raise awareness of filtered, airbrushed images and represent real skin. Because in spite of us being filter aware, it doesn’t stop us from questioning our beauty.
More recently social media apps have tried to make filtered content more transparent by displaying the name of the filter in use. It’s not clear whether this is in effort to help users be more filter aware from a psychological perspective, or to make it easier to use and share the filters that they see.
In August 2019 the Facebook-owned platform Spark AR studio was made available to the public. What’s that? That is where Facebook and Instagram filters are born! Now anyone can create and upload their own filter. So I created my own unfiltered filter called ‘Real Skin’ for anyone who wants to destigmatize flawed skin! (Yep it’s just your regular camera mode!)
There are some that argue that feeling insecure is just part of growing up. But I would say that the psychological repercussions of social filters are far more damaging than your average teenage insecurities. Where once we might of compared ourselves to someone else, now we are able to compare ourselves to the perfect, pore-less, virtual version of ourself.
Do filters stop social media being social?
For some social media can be a very toxic environment – whether it be because of online trolls or from obsessing over the amount of likes you get on every post. In truth, it’s not just filters that make us feel disconnected from society. But ironically we turn to filters to stop cyber bullies and to increase the popularity of our posts.
But what happens when you can’t achieve the same filtered look in real life? For some it stops them from socialising in person, embarrassed by the way they misrepresented themselves online. For others it causes panic attacks and social anxiety. And it convinces a lot of us to buy into the latest pore-less beauty trends in the hope that one day we will achieve the same airbrushed result as the model in the advertisement. For that reason alone, I ask the question whether misleading advertising like this should be legal and if cosmetic companies should be banned from digitally enhancing skin to promote their product.
As a network, social media is home to some of the most influential advertising. With 928.5 million people reached by ads on Instagram alone. Has your social experience been diluted because of advertising on social media? As annoying as it is, I am probably one of those 928.5 million people. I get most of my vacation inspiration from social media. And I’m definitely part of the 27% that finds new products/brands through paid social ads! But imagine talking to one of your friends over a cup of coffee and then they suddenly start trying to sell you something. WTF? So is it advertising taking the social out of social media?
OK! I know I’ve spoken a lot about filters but this time I don’t mean beauty edits. I want to talk about censored content. I’m not sure of the extent of parental controls where social media is concerned. But I know that the apps themselves have certain measures in place to safeguard us all against unwanted images or language. The problem is that these filters aren’t bullet proof! And what else are they censoring? Who gets to decided what we can and can’t see? What do they class as inappropriate?
Last year it became evident that some social apps were censoring acne – deeming it as undesirable content. And although the movement #undesirablesofinstagram went viral, images like these are still being censored today. So now, not only do we have to question what we see, we also have to question what we are not seeing.
But it’s not just the app creators that can censor content. With the use of hashtags, the ‘follow’, ‘unfollow’, ‘block’ and ‘restrict’ buttons we also have the ability to control what we see.
In the interest of my mental health, my personal social media guidelines are: