The Pressure to Be Liked: Popularity and Stress in Social Media

If you are reading this, chances are that you found your way to this article through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or some other form of social media.

In a statistic published by Pew Research Internet Project, of the 74% of online adults who use social media, 89% of this users are between the ages of 18-29.

Therefore, I’m going to assume that you’re like me and that you have had some social media account that has been active for at least six months. Have you ever considered deactivating it?

I would be surprised if you answered no, as this is a reoccurring question for me every day. But why am I considering deleting my social media accounts?

Well, it has something to do with the social comparison theory and measuring success in social media through “likes.” The social comparison theory operates on the idea that we evaluate our own success through comparing ourselves to others. We do this every day when we discuss income, education, our material possessions, our relationship status, etc. You may not say it out loud, but you secretly feel a little buzz of satisfaction when you find out you scored five points higher on a test than your friend or you made more money in the last month than your coworker.

However, social media has taken this comparison into a more abstract realm of success: “likes.” You can like a status, a picture, a life event, a relationship update, someone’s music choice — the list is never-ending really. And while it seems like an encouraging display of support – “Hey, I really like this selfie you posted!” – likes can also create stress within an individual.

In a 2013 article published by Huffington Post, it was reported that people who use social media were 14% more likely to describe their lives as “somewhat stressful” than people who do not use social media.

Based off of personal experience and discussing this issue with close friends, I speculate that this stress stems from the pressure to please the ever-present audience behind the computer screen. It’s the reason I take multiple pictures and choose the best one to post or why I may rewrite a tweet seven times before I think it’s good enough to be published. Sometimes, it’s the reason I don’t post anything at all. I don’t want to post a picture that receives 9 likes while my friend posts a picture that receives 70+ likes because in the eyes of social media, I am considered less successful.

Subsequently, this “less than” mentality can be internalized and eat you from the inside out. An example of this theory in action is the way we link mainstream media to the reason why in the United States alone, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some point in their life. So why haven’t I deleted my account already?

As you probably know, social media is also a very effective tool in staying connected on a global scale. It’s the way I talk to my friends who live in different states and countries, the way I keep myself updated on current events, the way I actually found the opportunity to be writing this article for and reaching all of you fabulous readers. Social media is a double-edged sword that’s a little too hard for me to let go of.

In a perfect world, everyone would be able to overcome this internalized idea of not being good enough. But I’m not perfect, this world is problematic, and I think we’re all pretty familiar with doing things that aren’t necessarily healthy for ourselves.

That being said, I am an advocate of doing what is most beneficial to your mental health and this includes taking a break from anything that takes a toll on you. I personally have deleted my Instagram and Facebook apps from my phone several times so I could take a social media vacation, and it helps. So if you find yourself feeling anxious or nervous when you post a picture or a tweet or even when you’re updating your hobbies and interests, I would recommend asking yourself if you feel that you would benefit from your own social media vacation. Go outside, read a book, plant a flower, write a poem, watch a movie, talk to your mom, eat as much ice-cream as is humanly possible, paint your nails, meet your neighbors, and remember that life exists outside of the macro-bubble of the internet and you don’t need to be “liked” to be happy.

As one of my favorite characters of all time — Albus Dumbledore — said, “Of course it is happening inside your head, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

Image Credits: Raw Pixel
Rachel Trueblood

Rachel Trueblood

Rachel Trueblood is a student at Winthrop University pursing a Bachelor's degree in English, Creative Writing. She is most interested in poetry, political activism for the betterment of all humans, and potato chips.
Rachel Trueblood

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