Did Social Media Make Lies The Norm?
“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” Gloria Steinem
Benchmarked by the millennial experience, our cultural shift toward 'honesty' came on slowly, surely, yet ever so obviously. Mine was a generation growing up under the omniscient eyes of Google, using our personal information to help advertisers better target us and thus dictate our decisions. Anti-smoking campaigns revealing how tobacco companies targeted kids was common place. We're not so young as to be ignorant of the outrage present over Nixon and Watergate, but I personally lack the wisdom to see why that indignant reaction over such dishonesty has dwindled into only a collective shrug. So can we really be surprised to see a Republican party's nominee for President that seems perfectly content to lie, deny lying, or better yet create more lies around previously said lies and still sway voters? After all, he's not the only person out there lying to save face in the (social) media...
Our overly glamorous Facebook profiles and filter perfected Instagram photos, our 'reality' TV shows and supped up first-person headlines (I tried Beyonce's Diet for a Week, I Could Have Never Guessed What Happened!), the finger of blame might just point back onto ourselves. Online and into our own election, we're living in the age of the lie.
The question isn't when did we become so comfortable with using lies as logic', but instead who started – and fostered – this phenomenon? It's a chicken-and-the-egg scenario: did public figures teach us that lying to keep up appearances is acceptable, or did we lead the charge with our own personal campaigns online?
Confronting this possibility might well piss you off, as Steinem once warned, but at least it's honest dialogue.
Multiple studies in the past decade have brought to light the damning effects of social media, especially Facebook, because of the way in which we falsely portray our own lives. When Instagram and Snapchat came on the scene (as did the 'selfie' movement), it seemed only a matter of time until tools were offered to make our efforts more fruitful: the filter. The ultimate facade.
Popular face-altering filters first appeared with fanciful accessories that made them seem harmless; a crown of flowers, glitter rainbows vomiting out of user mouths, a puppy nose and ears. Theatrics were eventually pushed aside and filters that simply and only manipulated faces as would a plastic surgeon became common place, setting an obviously dangerous precedent for both beauty standards, and the future of personal social media.
But as everyone knows: the first rule of social media filters: you don't talk about social media filters.
Snapchat said in February that it had more than 100 million daily users who spend around a half hour each day on the app. And those numbers are only growing, as users are now viewing 10 billion videos each and every single day. That's 10 billion chances every day to further a standard of beauty that simply doesn't exist. By the way, most of Snapchat's users are under age 35.
I'm not the first to wonder how safe it is that we've all found a way to gift ourselves 'perfect' features on not only our personal concept of worth but on future generations. In fact, I'm not even sure how honest we are with ourselves about our current body image problem. DoSomething.org offers the following statistics:
“Approximately 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting to achieve their ideal body shape. Unfortunately, only 5% of women naturally possess the body type often portrayed by Americans in the media.”
Buzzfeed had a few staffers test out the filters, two of which are named to a comically condescending degree: “pretty” and “beauty”. Many users complain about the way the filters make complexions look 'whiter' than they actually are as well, adding another insulting dimension. Said one of the Buzzfeed testers named Ellie:
“I can’t decide whether I’m happy that Snapchat has given me the opportunity to see myself the way I’ve always wanted, or mad that they have reassured me that my insecurities are completely legitimate.” (via)
Which leaves little question why we can expect plastic surgery rates to continue to raise, as the American Society of Plastic Surgeons has reported. They stated a whopping 15.9 million procedures last year, a 2% increase over the year before. Nose reshaping was number three on the list of most popular, with eyelid surgery coming in just below at number four. So on top of using filters that change our faces, creating profiles that make our entire lives look more exciting, and now electing reality TV stars to major party nominees and allowing gross acts of dishonesty and disrespect to be only roadblocks to his campaign, the only honest thing I can do is say I'm fed up of the charades, and I'm terrified of what we'll create and accept next.
I'm a feminist, a voter, and next year I'll turn 30. Carrie Bradshaw once said in an inner-monologue to the audience that she “gave up trying to be perfect” when she turned 30. I realize now that giving up 'perfection' often means simply admitting things aren't as beautiful and happy as they appear on the outside, but no less real, important and valid. In this respect, many women have made an argument for honesty with their own actions:
Celebrity Amber Tamblyn posting this week to say what actually happens when a man grabs a woman 'by the pussy'. There was also Alicia Keys' moving essay on the dangers of make up, why she gave up her reliance on it. Slate called out Miss Teen USA Karlie Hay for using a racial slur in previous tweets, though to again only a shrug rather than the tirade it deserved from us all. Honesty can be a scary thing, specifically when it threatens what has made us so comfortable, but those willing to call out dishonesty (even their own) as injustices are out there, whether individuals or major news outlets. Now is the time to champion them.
If my generation is one consumed with media and one that contributed to our state of affairs, then we also have the responsibility to change it. When we are willing to be truly honest with ourselves (even about ourselves) and with each other, we might be able to impact the dishonesty, lies, racism, ignorance, and bigotry of which our country is so desperately suffering. When we are willing to be honest about the problems our society has, and honestly admit we are all responsible for changing them and being active citizens, we might just reverse the shift. Like generations before us who used peaceful protest, education and cultural dialogue to demand change, now is our time to be honest online and offline, setting a new precedence for what we contribute to society and thus what we expect from our leaders.