Creating a truthful online persona presents challenges, experts say

In today’s world, smartphones have become something of a necessity. They are a permanent fixture in society, but why?

Through smartphones the world of social media was opened. The perpetual updates and connections created with social media bind people to one another in a new and exciting way, every single second of the day. People crave the fulfillment and the instant gratification that social media can bring to them.

The problem that has been created is the void left when the "likes" stop coming in. Social media has created a world in which people are constantly striving to be their perfect self. The profiles created on social media create a window into a person’s life, and with that they also create a pressure to be flawless 100 percent of the time.

"The constant pressure to be ‘on’ and to present a socially acceptable persona creates high stress, while being culturally accepted," said one local psychologist whose practice is in Buffalo. "Adolescents (and adults) have device addiction, interfering with self-care and boundary setting."

Social media is inherently a system of constant evaluation that can impact personal perception as people compare themselves to one another’s curated, fake selves.

"Social media definitely affects me negatively, because it is all about self-validation," said Maddie Love, a junior at Buffalo Seminary. "It is about comparing ourselves to others, and seeing how we measure up."

The pictures, stories and tweets posted online are typically carefully cultivated in order to fit society’s expectations. People who use social media tend to be looking for validation, and this is found when the pictures reflect your perfect self.

But what is someone’s perfect self? Through pictures and posts, people can alter themselves to be an "ideal" person.

The pressure of social media can seem suffocating when you begin to compare yourself to these idealized people. Social media is made for self-evaluation that can bring validation, but oftentimes people cannot compare to the photoshopped celebrities online.

Among the most common and relevant issues with teenagers online is the "decreased sense of self/self esteem (partly due to the photoshopped version of how perfect everyone else lives," the psychologist said.

It can lead to an increased sense of isolation and be a trigger for depression and anxiety, she said. This addresses the void or disappointment that settles in when people do not receive their desired feedback online.

"We look at our ‘likes’ and try to figure out what flaw we have when we cannot measure up to others," Maddie said.

When someone posts online they are looking for a reaction, and when they do not receive those reactions, it can be a disheartening blow.

Also, when someone posts online they might see themselves comparing their posts to the posts of others, especially celebrities, can greatly affect someone’s ego.

The psychologist said, "I’d say that sense of self is in direct correlation to the quality and quantity of social interactions in an adolescent’s life. The more social media, the more likely the teen has impaired sense of self."

The American Psychological Association reports that 48 percent of millennials worry about the ways in which social media negatively affects their mental health, and 45 percent feel as though technology causes a disconnect within the family.

Katie Gareis, a sophomore at Buffalo Seminary, said her confidence level is not correlated to her social media. But, she said, "I know a lot of my friends feel self-conscious about their social media."

Maddie feels her confidence shaken "occasionally, because when my picture does not do exceptionally well in terms of ‘likes’ in a set amount of time, I can feel it affecting my confidence."

Social media is being used to define one’s personal perception and outward image.

This can present difficulties, but there are ways to look at social media and use it for positive reinforcements.

When online, "be your best self, but remember that your best self is not your perfect self," said Erin Kelly, communications director at Buffalo Seminary. "Your best self is your genuine self, which is different from your curated self."

If people remain authentic to themselves there would not be as much of an issue when people begin to compare themselves online. This may be an unrealistic goal, but as an individual it could prove to be an important goal.

Kelly also cautioned that "nothing is a secret; that everything is knowable and findable if somebody really wants to know it or find it. A thing to remember when you’re building your online profile is that it is with you, forever."

When creating an online profile, people must remember to highlight their best selves, the things they want to publicize, without reinventing themselves.

Catherine Steiner Adair is a clinical psychologist who was interviewed on NPR, and she discussed the issue of being your best self, and how it can be monitored in a classroom and not online.

She says, "Well kids today go home, and they are away from their teachers who at school are reminding them to be their better selves, and they connect online."

Often teenagers do not have an ideal filter for doing and saying things, and this becomes more problematic when someone is not there to monitor them. Anyone can see your online self, so it should reflect the better part of your real life self.

The American Psychological Association said that in 2016, eight in 10 Americans were connected to social media on any given day. Although some may call this an addiction, social media has shown positivity by giving people more perspective on how they should conduct themselves. This could be taken to an extreme, but in many cases developing a filter for online posts is crucial.

"When you are having a bad moment, get a pen and a piece of paper and write it down," Kelly said. "Writing helps bring down your internal stress, not typing your darkest feelings online."

People need an outlet for stress, and it is important to learn that social media is not the ideal outlet.

Social media allows the opportunity to stop and think before saying or posting something that can negatively impact yourself or others.

Social media allows people to connect with each other in a revolutionary way. When used properly These opportunities are priceless.

Social media can have a profound impact on how we see ourselves.

The power is in your hands when you use social media, so it should be used to represent yourself in a genuine way, and this applies to what you post and how you react to others’ posts.

The local psychologist was asked what teenagers could do to make social media a more positive experience, and her answer was, "Kindness! Authenticity!"

Social media is a social interaction, and like any social interaction one must be thoughtful and considerate towards others, as well as kind to themselves.

Maddie said, "More than anything, I love the ease of being able to communicate with others through social media, more so than the validation I might receive from it."

Michel ColaciComment