Over the past few years there has been a shift in the way people see social media. There has been a developing idea that our social media profiles must be a ‘true’ and ‘authentic’ representation of our lives. That we must share our ‘lows’ in equal measure to our ‘highs’ and lay bare all of our shortcomings, failures and dirty laundry. It is an idea that I’ve often supported in the past, but recently I have been beginning to question why? Do we really need to share all online?
This is by no means an attack on those who do write about or feel comfortable sharing the less glamorous parts of their lives. To be honest sharing difficult times can be cathartic and an amazing release of bottled up emotions and thoughts. I’m more referring to the idea that people should feel obliged to share the more difficult parts of their lives in order to be ‘authentic’, in order to be ‘real’.
I was listening to an episode of one of my favourite podcasts, ‘The High Low’ when this exact topic came up. It made me think about my relationship with social media and the responsibilities that come with my use of it.
Up until recently I tried my hardest to keep my social media feeds as true to my life as I possible. I didn’t share overly edited images and I would comment on my hardships as much as the positives. I thought I was doing a relatively good job of being a responsible social media user, that was until I had a conversation with an old work colleague.
During the conversation with this old work colleague, she told me that my social media feeds made her feel bad about herself. She seemed surprised when I told her that I too have days where I feel like I am failing as a mother or can’t find anything to wear, because my entire wardrobe suddenly doesn’t look quite right.
The conversation made me question if I was being authentic enough and in the weeks that followed I found myself being more and more negative on my social media. This negativity online, then bled into my mindset and began filtering into my life in general. I began to realise that I didn’t actually feel like sharing so much negativity so openly with others and to avoid offending anyone with my ‘overly positive’ or ‘filtered feed’, I just began posting less and less.
Listening to ‘The High Low’ made me question if it is my responsibility to provide an ‘authentic’ or ‘real’ version of myself online at all. I’m not saying we should all start fabricating what we are doing, when and who with. I’m not implying we should all start photoshopping ourselves into backgrounds we’ve never even seen, but do we really need to be under any social obligation to share every detail of our lives in order to be ‘authentic’ versions of ourselves online?
For me, my social media feeds are there to keep me up to date with old friends and be inspired by other’s journeys. When that ceases to be the case and I find myself being drawn into a negative space by my feeds, I change them to bring them back to that positive influence on my life. I am in control of what I expose myself to and what I absorb while online. I feel it is my responsibility as a user to be aware of how my social media feeds affect me and to be mindful to curate them when needed.
As for my own posts, I want my online space to be a creative outlet that spills over with colour and positivity. Personally I don’t feel it is my duty to share every little detail of my life to ensure my feeds are ‘realistic’. If I take a photo of myself I don’t like, I don’t have to post it on my public profiles in order to be ‘authentic’. If my posts aren’t what others want to see, that is what the unfollow, mute and unfriend buttons are for.
As a society, I believe we need to be able to take social media for what it is, orchestrated snippets of other’s lives. I believe that we need to be able to curate our social media feeds to match with our current mindsets and to match what we need to see in order for them to have a neutral or positive impact. If we are unable to do that, then perhaps it isn’t a question of ‘obligation to share all’ but a question of ‘should we be using it at all?’