Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok—just about every digital interaction we have with others involves a points system of “likes.” This points system wasn’t problematic until it started being viewed as a way to define people in the real world, like some prolonging of popularity contests in high school.
Social media only thrives because it is dependent on our intrinsic need to belong. Our need not only to connect but our need for approval. Though receiving a plethora of likes on our selfie may feel good at first, and may even validate our appearance or photography skills, we are also at risk of facing the repercussions of cyberostracism. Meaning, we feel rejected and excluded the second we don’t receive as many likes or comments. What’s most shocking about this is that we rely on internet bots, people we hardly know, or people we’ve never even met to give us this validation.
It’s no secret that social media has been exacerbating issues with anxiety, depression, alienation, and even lack of purpose. When we’re not defining our lives by the number of likes we receive, we’re comparing them to the very content in these posts. We’re watching influencers travel from Switzerland to Argentina and get paid buckets of cash to do so. We’re watching friends with flourishing social lives from the sidelines. We’re watching one success story after the other, and even if, deep down, they’re miserable, all we see on our end is boundless bliss and thousands of endorsements.
We forget that the photos we see online are often manipulated highlight reels. They don’t merit feelings of inadequacy. It comes as no surprise to me that heavy users of social media are three times as likely to experience symptoms of depression than the average person.
I hope that this is not the new pinnacle of human connection. I hope the days of showing up unannounced to our friend’s house with nothing more than a knock on the door and warmth in our hearts aren’t extinct forever. We humans are always trying to find meaning in what we do. That’s why we have so many religions and so many cliques and communities of like-minded individuals with steadfast beliefs. Social media has become a cult following of people who are equally desperate to connect and vulnerable to communal norms and outsider statuses. I too, an avid user of Facebook and Instagram, am part of the problem by choosing to engage despite how worthless it makes me feel at times. I’m also probably responsible for making others feel this same way.
It’s sickening when we consider that our concept of beauty and the way we look is compromised by how many “likes” or “loves” a bunch of internet enthusiasts rations us. It’s crazy that our sense of self softens like clay and can be molded into someone less confident and more isolated. And why? Most of us aren’t making a living via these apps. It’s not giving us much of anything in return. So why waste our precious moments scrolling feeds that drain our lives of meaning? Because maybe there’s a chance our ex will see our post and get jealous of the pretend life we have? Because those followers in Uzbekistan took the time to double-tap our photo?
I hope that one day we can return to a time when our self-worth wasn’t measured by something as artificial as the number of likes on social media. Hopefully, now that people can choose whether or not to display their like count, we are moving in that direction. Personally, I want to make self-validation my main priority. I want to focus on feeling intelligent, beautiful, and worthy of love all on my own, so much so that the social media bubble can never interfere with my emotional wellbeing again.