The inherent narcissism of social media


An interesting news story this week about the current state of social media. In an apparent social experiment, a Dutch student faked a South Asia holiday, in an effort to illustrate how easy it is to fabricate our digital lives.

According to the Independent, Zilla van den Born pretended to board a flight to Thailand, but, unbeknownst to her friends and family, actually returned home on a train later that day, and hid out for the next six weeks.

She then used Photoshop to insert herself into images of stunning beaches and scenes of Thailand, and uploaded them to Facebook.


The cliches are all there. The beach selfies, the shiny happy pictures with local kids, the elephant rides and of course the traditional ‘selfie with a drugged up baby tiger’!

Though a pretty drastic measure (not to mention a waste of 6 weeks!), Van Der Bornto wanted to highlight how “we create an ideal world online which reality can no longer meet”. That’s certainly something we all should become more aware of.

Social media is make us innately self centered. Everything we do online is a multiplied version of ourselves. We’re angrier, happier, more fun and we manicure our persona. While ‘personal branding’ can have many positive aspects, there is another side.

The recent Eircom Household Survey includes many interesting insights into Irish social media use, but perhaps the most enlightening for me was this footnote:

Elsewhere in the survey, it’s stated that 55% of 16-24 year olds are regular ‘selfie’ takers, while 46% of 16-24 year olds admit ‘FOMO’ from not being online constantly.

All of these insights are related. It seems we’re aware and willing to manicure our lives to make them seem far richer, more exciting and more fulfilling than they really are on social. We omit the mundane, and constantly reiterate anything that can be made to seem exciting or interesting.


And it’s a vicious circle too. It’s been proven by Harvard researchers that positive affirmation in the form of ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’ provide a burst of dopamine, which in turn makes us even more addicted, and more likely to follow up with a good old selfie.

Of course, on some level, we’re all aware of the manicured nature of our social feeds, yet it can still lead to a feeling of ‘missing out’, or even, in some cases, slight depression – other people are having all of this fun, and you’re at home messing around on Facebook.

In the UK and South Korea, social media addiction has been declared a mental condition.

With issues like bullying, mental health, civic responsibility and attention span all topics of debate within Irish society at the moment, perhaps it’s time the government or a national charity started to proactively address both sides of social media with young Irish people?