While there are those of us who call for non-glittery authenticity and understand that even well doing people have bad days, there's this pressure of being positive online. Uplifting stories of success and happiness are in. Anything else is to be silenced to death.
During my daily selfies series on Instagram I've noticed an interesting behaviour depending on which sort of post I make. There are those who loyally like and comment even the less uplifting posts. Then there are those who only like and comment the smiley pics. The wider the smile, the more likes. I also get comments which tell me that "it's nice to see a smile for once". As if I wasn't smiling enough. I'm not an Internet celebrity, whatever that means, but I have a steadily growing following on Instagram. Often I wonder what sort of comments I would get if my following grew to the "celebrity" status. Would my authenticity, my tendency to show up on the bad days too, induce a backlash? Or does my authenticity keep me from getting tons of followers?
Authenticity is valued, but in small doses: YouTubers are allowed to have struggled in the past tense, because overcoming makes us brave and relatable. But we can’t be struggling now or we’re labeled “whiners.”
Dunn, Gaby. Get rich or die vlogging: The sad economics of internet fame. Retrieved Jul 25 2016.
There's a constant debate about whether you should post only positive and uplifting stuff or show the other side too. The uplifting, however faked it is, appears to be winning the debate. Social media stars are quitting, when they notice they cannot keep up the appearances. They don't want to be labeled as whiners, but they cannot smile and look hot all the time. Nobody can. In the distant past, the year 2013, a study pointed out that using Facebook makes people unhappy. According to it Facebook causes its users to become more jealous and lonely. It seems like social media is making us feel less social and more... Unworthy.
Social media has a tendency of emphasising everything. The algorithmic timelines pull up certain posts and make it seem like you are only posting that same stuff over and over again. If your follower happens, for a reason or another, to only see the negative stuff or the positive stuff they start to assume that's the whole truth about who you are. It's a form of a filter bubble. You see only the good or the bad. Most likely you choose to see only the side that suits you the best. Empathy doesn't have a place in it. Only your entertainment and comfort.
Faking happiness on social media is sometimes claimed to help with depression. That famous, often studied concept states that forcing a smile makes you feel happier. Fake it till you make it. Yet there's such thing as smiling depression where the person doesn't even realise being depressed and unhappy. It's dangerous too, people with smiling depression are more prone to commit suicides than those with a "regular", life-sucking depression. Plus sometimes forcing a smile is bad for your health. Faking happiness drains you. There's also another side to it. When everyone else online appears to be happy, successful and doing great, it makes you feel bad about your less than successful life. You forget that it's okay to be sad.
The pressure of appearing positive is very real. I've felt it many times, especially with my Instagram series. I can understand how the pressure can crunch anyone and, eventually, lead to silence. It's easier not to post anything, than to post something that isn't that uplifting. I wonder if we'll ever be able to take the (online) life, ours and that of others, as full with all the sad and all the happy, and everything in between.
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I'm Mervi Emilia Eskelinen, an artist and online presence strategist from Finland. I coach and consult indie businesses and bloggers to find focus with their branding, marketing and web. I have almost 20 years of experience, a bachelor's degree and some fun certifications in everything about digital media and marketing.