I am a huge fan of social media.
As I’ve written in a previous article, the beautiful imagery and the inspirational quotes that fill my newsfeed help make my days a little more pleasant. I have been able to connect with and form deep friendships with people from all across the globe who I may not have otherwise had the opportunity to meet. I have been able to support social causes that are near and dear to my heart.
I use social media every day, both for personal and professional purposes. I consider social media an important part of my daily routine.
Nonetheless, when not used in the right spirit, social media can contribute to inter- and intra-personal harm.
As powerful and useful as social media is for reminding us of our interconnection with all of humanity and for strengthening that connection, it is important to remember that humans are complex beings whose stories can almost never be fully captured by social media.
Social media provides snapshots of people’s lives that they choose to share. To share every single aspect of one’s life would be unproductive, exhausting, and potentially unpleasant. Your followers probably wouldn’t be too thrilled to see everything either. And even if it were feasible to post everything, the algorithms of certain social media channels make it difficult to actually see all of those posts unless you actively seek them.
However, it is impossible to know the full story behind those few snapshots that are shared. For example, you might see a photo of a couple posing for the camera looking happy. But the camera will never be able to capture what’s truly going on in their heads and hearts.
Personally, I try to be as honest and explicit as possible when I post on social media. I am proud of how my life events, both the negative and the positive, have shaped my story, and I like to be able to share that story with others. But even if certain posts or comments are able to convey the whole truth about a particular situation, sharing this truth publicly is not always possible due to the impact that doing so might have on other people.
As hard as we might try to make it so, it is almost impossible to paint an accurate picture of reality with social media alone. The assumption that social media is a true reflection of reality can have negative outcomes for our own well-being and our relationships.
For instance, seeing the picture of that seemingly happy couple on Facebook might make you feel insecure about your own relationship status. In other cases, assuming that one person’s status update is the one and only undeniable truth may hurt other people who have a different perspective on that status update. As another example, you might see your friends out having fun at a gathering you weren’t invited to and believe that they’re intentionally leaving you out.
So how can we cope with the distorted reality that social media often portrays and understand that which social media is unable to communicate?
I believe that part of the answer lies in using social media as a supplement to rather than a substitute for one-on-one interaction.
Social media sites are incredible platforms for building relationships and learning part of a person’s story, but maintaining those relationships and understanding the full story comes from actually reaching out to people and engaging with them in a way that might not be possible to do publicly. This intimate interaction allows you to dig deeper into a person’s story and understand their reality a little bit better. Instead of assuming that their social media posts convey everything there is to know about a situation, ask them if they’re willing to share more.
Granted, even in private interactions, people are still at liberty to withhold and/or distort information.
So the other part of the answer to coping with this inaccuracy may simply be to accept that one will not always know the full truth about certain situations. In many cases, the truth will come out on its own. In other cases it won’t. And even in cases when the truth is exposed, people might not be able to or might not want to see it. And that’s okay.
Approaching social media with the mindfulness that there’s always more to a story and making an effort to understand that story by interacting with people more intimately can help us improve our relationships and help us attain peace of mind.
Author: Pavita Singh
Editor: Catherine Monkman