Why Are We All Hitting The Unlike Button?
We put ourselves out there all the time on Facebook and Twitter, but Tracy Ramsden asks when we became so self-conscious about it
They call it “Insty shame”. It’s that moment about two seconds after you post a selfie and realise you look less cute and pouty and more Daisy Duck on steroids. Delete. It’s the same on Facebook – not enough ‘ likes’ on that pic of your macaroni cheese? Delete. Or when you realise your oh-so funny 140-character quip on Twitter is, well, blah. You’re obvious. You’re boring. And you’re unlikely to be retweeted. Delete. So that’s just it. The best thing about social media? We get to say exactly what we want. The worst thing about social media? We get to say exactly what we want. Being able to vocalise every thought or action online means we inevitably leave ourselves open for judgement. Say the ‘right’ thing and you’ll be flooded with ‘likes’, but say the ‘wrong’ thing and you’ll face the potential wrath of every friend, random follower, or stranger online.
“I sent out a casual tweet a few months ago saying I thought Mel B had gotten a bit greedy after causing that row between TV networks,” confesses one 21-year-old Sydney student who won’t be named for fear of another Twitter storm. “I couldn’t believe the backlash! Die-hard Spice Girls and Australia’s Got Talent fans bombarded me with insults saying how dare I rip into her. It upset me so much that I deleted the tweet in the end. I’ve started keeping my opinions to myself now to avoid offending anyone!” What’s on your mind? The joy of social media is that it is a democracy. No longer is it only professional commentators or celebs who can broadcast their opinions and pictures to the world – we all can. But as, um, Spider-Man once said, “With great power comes great responsibility”. For every ‘like’ we get, there will almost certainly be somebody who disagrees. And we’re all too aware of it. “The biggest anxieties that women experience online are, ‘Will I be liked? Will I look popular? Will I say the wrong thing? Will people think I look fat or ugly in that photo? Will people think badly of me?’” says Jayne Morris, power coach and author of forthcoming book Burnout to Brilliance.
In The Spotlight
The problem is that this can lead to an addiction to seeking out praise, not just online but in other areas of life, too.
There’s even a name for this new-found paranoia – Morris calls it ‘spotlight syndrome’. “Many women feel like they are constantly being watched and judged when, in fact, they overestimate the attention others are really paying to them,” she says. “It’s a problem heightened by social networking because comments and pictures we once
only shared in conversations at work, home or with friends are now displayed for everyone to view and comment on.”
So why do so many of us subject ourselves to this on a daily basis? It’s because we have a basic primal need to feel accepted, and racking up the ‘likes’ can give us that, explains Morris. “The problem is that this can lead to an addiction to seeking out praise, not just online but in other areas of life too. Facebook and Twitter make it quick and easy to get that praise fix and it can lead to compulsive behaviour.”
Scroll through your Facebook feed and you’ll most likely see an example of this attentionseeking behaviour. Sample status: “Katie is wondering why a certain somebody keeps stirring things up!” This is followed by comments like, “Oh hunniiii, don’t let them get you down”, “PM me if you need!” and “Always here for you babe”. Voila! A quick and simple ego boost that’s cheaper than therapy.
But as our online audiences continue to include intrigued strangers and random acquaintances, rather than just our actual friends and family, we run a constant gauntlet of social-networking faux pas on a much more public scale. Because we all know the old adage “you can’t please all of the people all of the time” – no matter how hilarious your tweet about MasterChef was. One hacker capitalised on this need to be ‘liked’ by designing a virus and embedding it into an email entitled “You seen what this person is saying about you?” You’d click on it too, right? (Note: don’t click. It is a virus!) But if we give in to this paranoia and adopt a self-imposed gagging order, isn’t there a risk that Twitter, and life, will turn into one big fence with all of us sitting on it?
In a word, yes, says Morris. “It is important that we express ourselves and have a voice – both offline and online. The big difference online is that what you say is recorded forever. So choose to comment on things that you feel passionately about. Instead of fearing causing offence or losing popularity, be willing to part company with people who aren’t on the same wavelength or who think there is only ever one ‘right’ answer.”
Unfollow The Leader
The secret, is knowing who to unfollow. “In order to honour who you truly are as an individual you cannot always be liked by everyone. And that’s okay!” says Morris. “Be a shade braver and put yourself out there – you will find it increases confidence in all areas of your life.” That is worth much more than a hundred so-called ‘friends’.