SEPT 26, 2017:
In our so-called ‘post-truth’ society, it can be difficult to differentiate between what is real and what is fake. The World Wide Web was a part of its creator Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of ‘universal connectedness, [a place where] an individual could suddenly situate themselves within a global network, crossing geographical, temporal and cultural borders at will.’ Then, social media arrived, seemingly furthering his dream of greater connectivity and freedom of expression. It gave us a window into other people’s worlds, whether they were in our city or in another country.
Now we have seen a fracturing in what that means for us as individuals and as an online and offline community – studies about how this new reality is affecting our health, for example. It has us all questioning: Is that Instagram post really reflective of the person IRL, or can real life and digital life in fact no longer be separated?
‘Somehow, knowing what you’re seeing is artificial doesn’t make it any less desirable,’ writes Refinery29. ‘And why would it? After all, the crux of social media is that it’s reciprocal. You have the same tools – or so you think – as that A-lister or influencer who looks #flawless in their most recent selfie. So you take a photo, you crop it, you edit it (as 44% of us do, according to Ofcom) and you upload it.’
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Together we are collectively comparing ourselves to ‘artificial, moving goalposts’, while at the same time creating them. ‘It doesn’t matter if we know a photo is fake or not,’ explains behavioral scientist, Dr. Carmen Lefevre, ‘we all have an automatic response to things we see, so those kinds of photos still have a physical impact. Cognitively, we know it’s not real, but it still ends up reinforcing an ideal or new standard. The more time you spend surrounded by certain images, the more you normalize that kind of look.’
Interestingly, the Refinery29 article draws comparisons here with a 1983 study by Professor Thomas Cash, in which researchers found that participants felt less similar to celebrities, and therefore reported more negative self-esteem when comparing their image to attractive peers. But where does that distinction lie now that we all have the ability to look like a celebrity online? And how much indeed is this celeb-style online life reflective of how real lives look?
Of course, there is still a beauty community online that exists against these falsities, and instead see Instagram as a space to reveal the ups and downs of life, to showcase the work that they are most proud of, to share the helpful tips and advice of a friend to millions of people. Many studies also suggest that social media has the power to subvert beauty ideals – if we see it as a platform to show truths otherwise ignored by the mainstream media, our content can resist being called fake.
Share your thoughts on this “post-truth” society in the comments!
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