Social Media ≠ Fake
Cristina Juesas

Social Media = Inauthentic

Essena O’Neill has grown up in a world where she’s never existed without the internet. Her life, like the lives of all other teenagers her age, is so integrated with the internet that finding information and posting pictures is just a part of everyday existence. The problem is that at the most formative years of brain development, teenagers are being taught that their identity hinges on digital affirmation from perfect strangers.

The teenagers I work with have told me of the unwritten rules of Instagram:

  1. You may only post one picture a day
  2. It better be a cute picture
  3. If it can’t be cute, it better make it look like you’re doing something interesting
  4. If it doesn’t get a certain amount of likes within a few minutes, take it down because it’s a failure
  5. Try again tomorrow

Today’s teenagers don’t think the internet and social media is fake, but they are learning that the identities they so carefully formulate online are. They’re getting tired of presenting a carefully curated version of perfection.

Teenagers are looking for authenticity in their relationships and they aren’t finding it in their Instagram feeds. If I had to guess, Essena O’Neill is going through this exact revelation. She just happens to be internet famous so it’s making waves.

The need for authenticity online is the reason Snapchat is so popular. Teenagers feel they can be their true selves there. They aren’t trolling for likes — for that instant affirmation — they’re being goofy and joking with their friends as if they were in the same room (even if they are in the same room).

Over the next few years we’re going to see more stories like that Essena O’Neill’s. Each time it will be less shocking until it just seems normal. Our digital tools will continue to evolve and will shy away from a focus on numbers and instant affirmation and instead focus on authentic connections with other human beings.