The Social Media Pandemic

by Payton McHugh and Julia Berman

The way one appears on social media over shadows real life.

How well do you know your peers, friends, and neighbors? What about a stranger you pass in the street, or your favorite teacher? When you’re looking for a supercut of someone, social media provides all the answers. It offers an explanation for all the unknown. It provides an appearance, a personality, an aesthetic, and best of al it can all be extracted from a single post. Within the past decade, social media has grown from status updates and poking to the hottest thing on the market. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok are the inhabitants of the average teenagers ecosystem. Through all these forms of media, individuals have been granted the ability to curate a completely different persona from who they actually are to display on their accounts.

Bea Benson, a sophomore drama major at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA) recognized this issue. With 1,026 followers, and 22 posts, lots of people are receiving lots of media from her constantly. The question is, is this media representative of who she really is? 

“I don’t think anyone’s social media can be fully themself, because you’re not in person with them–you have to meet people to know who they are,” Bea said.

Bea was in 7th grade when the world went into lockdown. She finished middle school virtually, and entered high school as a 9th grader who hadn’t interacted with her peers in a school setting since she was a middle–middle schooler. Bringing a unique perspective on her re-emergence within the education system she shares how social media played a role in her transition. 

“I think everyone did (find their peers on social media) but I didn’t go to the mixture…I saw a couple people post and be like ‘Frank Sinatra 2025,” she said.

Though she didn’t stalk her peers like most anticipating freshman, Bea has felt the anxiety of being on the other side of the screen.

“I don’t have any social media account where I’m just posting whatever I want—I think about it too much,” she said.

As someone who has grown up through the growth of Youtube, Instagram, and TikTok she truly believes that not a single one of these medias is genuine.

“A lot of creators don’t emphasize to their fans that this is not their real life,” Bea said.

According to Bea, transparency and personality is something that is near impossible to come across on social media, due to the editing, the fake personas, and the need to have what she calls near perfect aesthetic.

FSSA senior dance major Ben Lee challenges Bea’s reluctance on the perfect aesthetic dilemmaAs a participant of the perfectly curated post’s group, Ben believes that his social media not only represents him, but is essential to his career in fashion and his ability to make connections.

“I meet a lot of interesting people through social media. People I have gotten to work with, meet, network with,” Ben said.

Admittance to carefully choosing his pictures, Ben sheds light on the positives of the aesthetics of instagram.

“I don’t necessarily aim to show the good parts of my life, just the aesthetic parts,” he said.

When asked to describe his process of posting Ben said when he sees a set of images he almost always know whether or not they are going on his feed.

“It takes me a bit to choose which ones out of the many that I prefer. I enjoy having a cohesive feed,” Ben added.

Though he lives through social media mostly anxiety free, Ben does admit that occasionally the paranoia of views and aesthetic kicks in.

Ben along with Bea have found a solution to minimizing this anxiety by turning off their like count–something many social media participants have begun to do.

FSSA senior film major Danielle Levitin is someone who likes to stay in touch; the prime target for these social networks to sink their teeth into, but don’t be fooled, she stays alert. Having disengaged from many popular social media platforms in the past few years. Danielle got her first social media account in 6th grade, and has had a love-hate relationship with it ever since. The only reason she hasn’t fully pulled the plug is because “I feel like with no social media at all I’d be disconnected from other people my age.”

She’s cut down her digital presence to the occasional Instagram post. The reason why Instagram is the last man standing is because she enjoys putting together her Instagram feed. Posting aesthetic images that look good together and that make her happy. One could liken her posting habits to the curator of a museum. 

“I don’t try to portray myself in any way that [I’m not],” Danielle (pictured above) said.

She says that she is confident in herself and her image, and doesn’t care how others see her. Although sometimes she can get wrapped up in how others see her, it’s more like a fascination rather than an obsession. More than anything, she wants her Instagram to be accurate to her.

“I don’t try to portray myself in any way that [I’m not],” Danielle said.

But not everyone is this way. Danielle says she’s noticed some people take their online personas way too seriously. Having had her fair share of run-ins with digital impersonators, she has seen into communities of people who pretend to be someone else online. These circumstances are extreme scenarios of people dealing with insecurity and masking it by hiding behind an image. In these cases, the image just happens to be someone else entirely.  

Atticus Cole, a senior at East Side Community High School, has a similar perspective on social media as a whole. He has found that over the course of his adolescence he has seen people get very wrapped up in how they present themselves online, and has seen this impact their real world personalities. Or even seen them lose themselves to the character they created online.

“Social media’s something people became accustomed to presenting themselves on, especially when quarantine was cutting people off from actual social interactions. They became used to presenting themselves online and human interaction took a backseat to that,” he said.

He personally does not have a large social media presence, having only two posts up, one of which being his dog Albert. He thinks that the COVID caused by quarantine is partially to blame. Causing millions to take to the cloud.

“The pandemic was when [someone’s social media presence] became a real focus for those who hadn’t touched it before,” he added.

Starved of the social interactions that the forming mind’s desire, teenagers all over the world swarmed onto these apps. With Tiktok alone gaining 38% monthly active users from 2019-2022 alone according to Statistica. The app promptly started churning out content that its users found harmful, which was people presenting their life in a way that seemed incredibly interesting, only posting the best of the best, while their real life struggled the same as everyone else. With nothing but time to watch the cycle started to accelerate. Seeing fantastical lives online and wanting to emulate that. The cycle spread from celebrity to influencer, and influencer to a regular teenager.

With methods like turning off counts, live streams, and screen time limitations; the social media epidemic has found ways to calm itself after the two year drought of real life social interactions. Though many still struggle with the perception of themselves and others within the apps, authenticity through all forms of media is being encouraged more and more periodically. All participants in the interviews agreed on one thing: hope that the anxiety and pressure within the world of media decreases as generations continue to form.