A Project for Better Journalism chapter

Real Likes or Real Life: Teens attempt to balance virtual, in-person realities

For some people, living in the moment has almost completely disappeared. They are now living behind the screens that are either in their hands or on the desks located in their own bedrooms. These screens hold fast access to the lifestyles of many celebrities and extended family members through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and more. These platforms give us the opportunity to connect with friends, family and our favorite celebrities,  but has the time spent on these platforms cut off the time we spend living in the present? 

Not to say that social media is the worst thing out there, but it does have its negative aspects. With social media, people start believing that perfection is real: perfect skin, perfect body and perfect bank account.

While social media, particularly those with a focus on pictures like Instagram, make it easy to dangerously compare, it also has its perks and can be used for good. 

Sophomore Gianna Belcher uses her Instagram platform to promote her hair business, where she specializes in braiding. She posts hair content that involves her clients and friends and also lists prices, time availability and how to contact her.

“Social media benefited my life,” said Belcher. “In many ways, it helped me expand my hair business and explore many different things that I would have never known.”

With what Belcher is doing now, this may influence or impact her future career, build financial security and teach her how to handle money. 

However, not everyone is using their hours of scrolling to better their futures.

According to Statista, a business data platform, people spent 135 minutes–or a little over two hours– per day on social media in 2017. Since then, that number has increased to 153 minutes between the years of 2018 and 2019. It is projected that by 2021, over 2 billion people will be on social media.

With all these faces, updates, and highlight reels of people’s lives, we can then question if the likes on Instagram are a real indication of how many people actually like you for who you are. On the flip side, if multiple people don’t like you on the ‘gram, the questions really start rolling: “Why don’t they find me interesting?” “Am I not as appealing as I should be?”  To some, however, the impact of social media is just what you make it.

“It all depends on the person,” said Belcher. “If they don’t care about what anybody thinks about them, then [social media] won’t impact them negatively.”  

Nevertheless, people, particularly teens, tend to fall into deep depression and doubt because they aren’t making people “happy” or “satisfied” or “giving likable content” on the internet. In some cases, parental guardians are unaware of their child’s social media usage and thus unaware of the negative emotions their child may be going through because of it. 

According to a study done by the National Cyber Security Alliance, out of 804 teens and 810 parents surveyed, 60 percent of teens had social media apps–sometimes referred to as Finstas, or fake Instagram accounts– that their parents were unaware of. This highlights how teens are able to split their online facade and their offline facade in half.

Despite the negative effects, teens are finding that social media can have its pluses amongst the dangers. 

“I have met amazing people through social media [who] have impacted my life,” said sophomore Oluwadamilola Akinyemi. “I have received negative comments from people, not on instagram, but from other social media platforms.” 

This just goes to show that having social media comes with it’s pros and cons. It starts with the practice of balance– the practice of balancing out who we are online and in reality. That way, the toxicity of social media doesn’t overpower the true meaning of living life.