I don’t often find myself agreeing with Kanye West these days. The hugely successful rapper and other half to Kim Kardashian West has experience a fairly negative backlash for voicing some of his controversial views lately, particularly as a result of his backing President Trump. However, I found myself getting behind Yeezy on one particular view to such an extent recently, that I gave him the highest accolade possible in the modern day – I retweeted him.
It was actually Kanye’s radical views on social media which caught my attention earlier this month, when he tweeted: “We should be able to participate in social media without having to show how many followers or likes we have. Just like how we can turn off the comments, we should be able to turn off the display of followers. This has an intense negative impact on our self worth.”
Despite the irony of my validating this view by giving Kanye an extra like and share on his post, I personally believe he’s hit the nail on the head. Now, as someone who’s studied entire modules and written a literal 20,000 word dissertation on the topic of social media use, as well as it being a huge part of my day to day job in communication, you would think I would be the first person to sing the praises of these platforms. But alas, while creating content for a company social media page is something I’m quite comfortable with, the same is most certainly not true when it comes to my own personal page. While I feel a little bit dumb admitting it, I’ve definitely suffered somewhat from caring a bit too much about the number of likes on a screen in the past.
As a result, I’ve become pretty much allergic to the ‘post’ button and I’ve all but abandoned social media as of 2018, or at least the two worst offenders in my books – the overbearing Big Brother of the social media world, Facebook, and it’s innocent looking but secretly vindictive little sister, Instagram. While I’m quite happy to post my pointless thoughts from throughout the day and retweet stupid jokes (and Kanye’s ramblings) on my Twitter page without worrying about whether or not I gain a million followers or if anybody even reads them while they scroll, I feel like Facebook and ‘the Gram’ centre around much more of a ‘validation via likes’ model of operating. I’m sure most teenagers and twenty somethings today have experienced that flood of dread when you’ve just posted a new profile picture or a carefully edited photo to your Insta feed and the likes don’t instantly begin pouring in. The panic over whether or not you should just delete it, or leave it up with that sad little ‘1 like’ displayed underneath.
To those who have never experienced this feeling, I probably sound mad. Who cares how many likes you get on a photo? If you like the photo, does it really matter if anyone else does? But the thing is, I know all that, and somehow, I have still sometimes felt ridiculous pressure when it comes to posting a picture on one of these platforms. I used to sit around and stress myself stupid wondering whether or not my face looked pretty enough, if my life looked fun enough or if my pictures were likeable enough. This process eventually drove me to one solution – just not bothering to post at all. Honestly, don’t be shocked if I still have the same profile picture I have today in 68 years from now.
And as it turns out, I’m not insane. It can be extremely easy to be sucked into the negativity of obsessing over your like count, and there’s a reason for that – scientists in the Netherlands are considering that social media might literally be addictive. Studies have found that high levels of social media use may have real links to mental health issues, increasing user’s risk of experiencing anxiety or depression. And studies in everywhere from the USA to Sweden have found that spending around 20 minutes looking at social media made individuals feel unhappy, unattractive and less confident. Anxiety.org states that there two ways in which social media causes us to feel bad – through ‘Fear of Missing Out’ or by leading us to ‘Compare and Despair’. It’s undeniably easy to scroll through your Instagram when you’re sitting at home and see friends who seem to be constantly on holidays, going on shopping sprees, getting expensive coffees with their millions of smiling friends, and to always be glammed up and posing in a rooftop bar with a £10 cocktail in hand. It can feel as if everyone else is successful and living their life to the full, that they’re able to juggle everything and do it all perfectly. But it’s also undeniably easy to forget that they’re not posting pictures of them eating beans on toast for two weeks until payday because they spent all their money on overpriced Strawberry Daiquiris. We’re so used to staring at other people’s highlight reels, and yet our brains still fail to connect the dots and remember it’s not always as it seems.
If you’re ever feeling a little overwhelmed by the expectations of the online world, I’d definitely recommend doing a little bit of a digital detox. My strategy of posting less has actually worked extremely well – the longer I went without it, the more clearly I realised that I really didn’t need to share every aspect of my life. Or, actually, any aspect of my life. I challenge you to try it – next time you’re about to post a picture of your delicious dining, or of your night out, or of your cute date, just stop. Save your nice picture, and repeat after me: nobody needs to know I’m having a good time but me. You’ll be genuinely shocked, as I was, to realise that it’s true. And you don’t need to ban yourself from social media altogether – it’s just sometimes nice to remind yourself that you can have a nice life without having to prove you have a nice life to anybody else.
And as for hiding your like count, I question if Kanye would really put his money where his mouth is if such a feature was made a reality. Then again, his wife Kim has a whole 114.5 million followers more than him, and to be fair, if I were him, I’d probably be want to make a secret of those numbers, too!