Social media has been the talk of the town or, should I say, the hype of cyberspace the last few days. All thanks to 19-year-old Sunshine Coast (Queensland, Australia) local, Essena O’Neill, and her declaration to quit it! Now that may not seem like a big deal to you. But it is when you have over 600,000 Instagram followers and 200,000 on YouTube. (Side note: I think I have, like, five on YouTube. Yay me)!

You’ve probably read a bunch of blogs about her already, maybe you’ve even shared a few too (don’t worry, I have as well). This is not another blog picking sides and advocating whether she’s wrong or right. It’s simply exploring the question, “Is social media good or bad”?

Firstly, I think what Essena did took guts. That girl’s got game. She put herself out there and it could have backfired, badly. Not to mention the fact she did it with no make up on. That’s a big deal for a chick who’s spent her life creating an “online brand” and a flawless image (gee, that would have been a big deal for me). Could she have some hidden agenda going on? Maybe? (Personally, I really don’t think so)! Is every word she said 100% accurate? Probably not. But does her message hold weight? Absolutely.

DESPITE HER MOTIVES, THE MESSAGE IS TRUE.

Social media can create a lot of pressure for people (key word can). Particularly young people. (key word young).

I think young people are the most susceptible to the negative side effects of social media. They are vulnerable to peer pressure and insecurity, no surprise as they are only just beginning to forge their identities and starting to ask the question, “who am I? And how do I fit into this world”? Add the weight of a daily fixation on the perfect body and the coolest squad and you’ve got one giant popularity contest. We are creating a generation that is prone to constantly seeking social validation. That can be overwhelming (There’s the word again, can).

Essena made these comments in a recent video.

“I have created an image of myself that I think others feel is unattainable, others look at as a role model, others look at as some type of ‘perfect human’.

“I get people saying every day on my Tumblr or on Instagram … ‘I wish I was you’.”

“Lately, I’ve realised how horrible that is. For someone to follow my content and think ‘I wish I was you’, that is the opposite of what I want to promote.”

“I just want younger girls to know this isn’t candid life, or cool or inspirational. It’s contrived perfection made to get attention.”

Word. Young girls shouldn’t compare themselves to what they see on their screens, but they do. All the time. And that can lead to problems. Months ago I wrote a blog, “The problem with our selfie generation”.

Here’s the short version.

Social media CAN definitely have negative effects.

IT CAN BE AN OBSESSION & ADDICTION

I know it has been (and sometimes still is) for me. Out of habit, the first thing I would do in the mornings was grab my iPhone, check my Facebook notifications and do a quick scroll through Insty. All the while, my two year old son would be standing beside my bed, repeating, “Mummy, mummy, mummy”. Sad, I know. I’ve attempted to break the habit. I’m still in recovery (10 ways to know you’re addicted to social media).

IT CAN LEAD TO FEELINGS OF INADEQUACY AND INSECURITY

The amount of ‘flawless’ bodies, breasts and butts we are exposed to every day through various channels of social media is actually ridiculous. It’s hard not to compare yourself when you are constantly bombarded with everyone’s ‘filtered’ version of themselves. Unfortunately, teenage girls are the most vulnerable and often their social media obsession can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety and even depression (I think it really comes down to what you are looking at. Be deliberate about what you see. I personally don’t follow any celebrities or fitness accounts for this very reason).

IT CAN DISTRACT US FROM PEOPLE IN OUR ‘REAL’ WORLD

I am prone to ruining moments by trying to capture the moment, just ask my husband! I often get so obsessed with taking a good photo on a date night or family day that I can lose the plot when I don’t, and end up killing the fun for everyone. What a waste; trying to take a picture while missing the purpose. I now intentionally leave my phone at home or in the car while on a date with the husband. And make sure I keep it out of sight for at least a few hours when I am home playing with my kids. After all, the person in front of my face deserves more attention than the ones online right?

Of course all of these are choices we make as individuals. You can go ahead and tell someone to love themselves; just be secure, forget about what people think, but it’s not that easy. Behaviour is learned, and unfortunately a lot of these thought patterns and actions are adopted from the culture we live in and the social cues we’re exposed too. Awareness comes first, then acknowledgement followed by change.

BUT social media isn’t all bad. It’s not all contrived and manufactured to make money, full of thigh gaps and product placements. Well mine isn’t anyway and the majority of my friends accounts aren’t either (mostly because I don’t have a thigh gap).

Social media can be used for a lot of GOOD stuff (like really really good stuff)! It’s all in how YOU and I choose to view it.

Is it a tool to draw attention to ourselves, boosting our egos and building our ‘brands’ (I don’t really have a brand. I am a mum who likes to write and talk to teenagers about relationships and Jesus, ha. Talk about small demographic)? Or is it a tool to reach others? Bless others? Love others?

Social media has so many positive attributes.

IT CAN RAISE AWARENESS ON IMPORTANT ISSUES AND SPREAD POSITIVE MESSAGES LIKE WILDFIRE

For me, that means talking about my faith. Jesus is the best thing that has ever happened in my life and this is just another way to share Him. Social media gives us the opportunity to reach people and places we never would have dreamed of 20 years ago (sorry gramps). . I post blogs sitting in my bed in my pyjamas and people read them all over the world, from the UK to Zimbabwe (Literally hundreds of thousands of people have read them) How cool!The impact we can have on the world using social media is truly profound. What an incredible tool of communication we literally have at our fingertips. Maybe instead of making funny cat videos go ‘viral’, we could share things that really matter?

IT CAN INFORM, ENCOURAGE, EMPOWER, UPLIFT AND MOTIVATE IN AN INSTANT

Words have power. They can either build up or tear down. I’ve lost count the amount of times I’ve had random people write to me on Facebook saying how much my blog has helped them. Some had never been to church before and now they go. Others were prodigals who thought there was no way back. Some were in the middle of a crisis; a marriage break-up, a self-harming episode, a relationship struggle and something I said gave them hope or guidance. I am still blown away at how a little blog or status can literally reach thousands. Life or death is in our words. We can use social media to give a little life!

IT CAN KEEP US CONNECTED

This is a personal one for me. My parents split up a month before I got married, nearly eight years ago. They now live on other sides of the world. My mum lives in Germany and my dad is now back in New Zealand. My mum has met my son once and my daughter a handful of times. I know it sounds a little strange, but Facebook makes me feel like I still have parents. I FaceTime them every week. My mum comments on every photo I post. No joke. I woke up one morning with 67 notifications, all from my mum (can someone say stalker? Ha). I like it, it makes her feel like she knows her grandchildren (possibly because I post so many photos. My bad). But seriously, it CAN help you stay or at least feel CONNECTED! Yes, social media can make your relationships more shallow, but only if you let it. It can also provide a great space to talk, share and stay in each other’s worlds (even if it’s only a cyber one).

I don’t believe social media is good or bad.It’s totally what YOU make it. I choose GOOD. You can too. We all can.

 

Article courtesy Sabrina Peters – www.sabrinapeters.com