BY NICOLE FUNG CALLEJA
It’s not a secret how heavily connected most college students feel to various social media platforms. This includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Some people use social media on a constant basis, but the question is, is this kind of social media use beneficial?
With so many uprising stars in platforms like Instagram and Twitter, who gained their status by increasing their followers and amount of likes, it’s not hard to imagine why some college students try to imitate gaining that sense of popularity through their own social media. Nowadays, it’s easy to become famous instantly. All it really seems to take is one viral post with good timing to become known, like the “Damn Daniel” vine.
Popularity and attention appear easy to obtain from social media platforms. I talked about this with students at McKendree, and most of them agreed that getting likes on their posts or photos was nice. A junior, Alina, remarked, “Knowing that people enjoyed what I posted is something I enjoy knowing.” She elaborated, asking, “Who doesn’t like a funny cat video to brighten your day? And if I don’t think anyone sees it, it kind of stinks.” While Alina uses Facebook to spread positive and funny videos, some may use it to share personal messages, emotional memorabilia or general events. Linette, a sophomore, admits, “As for the number of the likes in my posts, I’d say it is important. I do try to be a bit more apathetic towards it, but I can’t deny its importance to me.”
Freshman Ashley agrees. “I would say getting a certain number of likes isn’t necessarily important, but it does make you feel good about yourself. It also gives you a feeling of popularity.” Yet, there are also people on the other end of the spectrum, who don’t care much for social media, like senior Sammi, who said, “Even if something I post gets no likes at all, it doesn’t bother me.” Or junior Cody, who shared, “I’m the kind of person that could[n’t] care less if I get likes or not.”
Checking likes has become even easier with the everyday use of phones. Most people have their accounts synced to their phones to make it easy to access social media’s notifications as they pop up. However, how much of a part of our daily lives is consumed by glancing down at a screen?
“I check pretty frequently because now it’s just become an automatic thing to check social media,” Gabby, a freshman, admitted sheepishly. Yet, Gabby is not the only one who does this. Sarah, a sophomore, recognizes her need to check notifications as soon as they pop up, too, and even adds, “When it comes to my Snapchat story views, I check it quite often because I want to see who’s viewed it.”
Christie, a freshman, notes, “I don’t really post anything, but when I do, I check maybe two to three times, depending on if I think the post will be popular.” In other platforms, she adds, “For Snapchat, I check about 10 times to see who has viewed it.” Some others even admit to checking their Snapchat stories’ viewed list to look for certain people’s names.
Linette reflects on the time she spends checking her phone. “I used to check often, which I felt was unhealthy.” After recognizing this habit, she has taken some action on the matter, “so now I control the need to check and see if I’ve had any likes, favorites and such.” She observes, “That in itself shows that addiction is possible because of the fact that I need to control it.”
Ultimately, what content are we posting online, and what is the reason behind what we post? Is it to share our thoughts or moments, or is it to post something we know people might like to see on their feeds? There’s the dilemma that we might create an online persona for our social media accounts. This online persona is concerned with posting only with the aim of getting likes. There’s a sense of recognition obtained if the aim is achieved—if you get over 100 likes on the photo or if the person you look out for checks your Snapchat story—and you feel like you have achieved something. But does that, at the end of the day, make a difference in your life?
Alison, a junior, has a very strong opinion about creating an online image. “The image I was putting on the Internet was one to get likes, not one that was an actual reflection of me.” After she realized that she was only out to get likes, she could see that “it had a negative effect on some of the people I care about, which was one of the reasons behind getting rid of some social media I was in.”
It might be interesting to make a claim about how college students are falling prey to being validated through social media, yet it is not everyone who has been engaged and consumed by this trend. It often becomes a game to get more likes than the last time, carefully selecting what to post. One striking comment was: “I deleted my Twitter and Instagram a few months ago. Since then I’ve realized how much of an impact checking those things had.” Alison even comments about how it has been beneficial not to partake in those two social media platforms anymore. “I find I’m not on my phone in class anymore,” she says, “spending less time comparing myself to what I see in other people’s posts and less time worrying about what I should post to get attention.”
I’m not trying to make people go delete all their apps, but now that you know you’re not the only one playing the popularity game, maybe take a step back. Tell yourself that social media doesn’t have to control your life. Instead of spending so much time trying to create virtual connections, maybe use it to make plans to meet up with people. Get unplugged, glance up, see the world through your own eyes and stop seeking validation from posts, photos, status or likes. At the end of the day, likes are only the click of a button.