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Communities and Web 2.0

Likes and Followers: The Influence of Youth Online Presence on Mental Health

In today’s ever evolving, fast-paced online environment, we see many ways that the users of the internet can adapt to said environment. Users of websites on Web 2.0 that are classified as “social media” will use their profiles/status/statistics to determine reliability, credibility and influence by the numbers of people that like and follow users on all social media platforms. People with large follower counts or a “fan base,” will be automatically deemed by the general public on social media as important, influential, reliable sources of information and content for web users to consume. In today’s current social environment, we are seeing a large uprising in of “internet celebrities” who are being compared to and even as popular as celebrities like sport stars, movie stars and all other kinds of celebrities. But what does this mean? By having so many people having large influence in the social landscape because of large following online, smaller groups such as school students, university students and even now in workplaces, popularity of people are being determined by how influential their presence is online. Young people are being described as having the need for popularity, something that is evident in high school and university settings as popularity determines social status. People with a higher social status tend to have more influence on their peers and will often find themselves in positions where they have whole groups of people look up to them and/or hold them in higher esteem. By using social media and having a larger following, the “popular” individuals have an always online persona that glorifies their life and the things they do, creating the feeling that those with less followers and likes than them are more insignificant and don’t tend to have interesting ideas/lifestyles like these people with more followers. Social media websites like Facebook, twitter, Instagram and YouTube all have a form of subscription (friends, followers, subscribers) that track how many people have signed up into receiving content from that particular user, this allows others to see how popular one is online with them also able to gauge this by viewing the number of likes, hits or clicks on each piece of content posted by these users. Typically, just by viewing profiles with thousands of followers, most photos/videos/statuses have a large amount of thought and planning behind them to show off and glorify the individual that has the successful profile, once again leading others to believe the lives of these individuals are generally pretty good, making people that aren’t one hundred percent happy with their lifestyle, feel influenced and look up to the people who appear to have it so good. Using studies and works published by credible sources we can see that users of web 2.0 social networks determine that an individual’s popularity, especially in youth, is determined by the number of followers and likes users have on their profiles across multiple different networks which can result in issues with body image and mental health for these users.

Social media allows for its users to create their online identities by choosing what to post, whether it be thoughts, videos, pictures, music, comments on others content or even simple things like profile bio’s. This creates perfect platforms for people with a high “Need for popularity.” This is because social network sites facilitate selective self-presentation (Utz et al, 2012) which means that the individuals can choose how their life is portrayed through their uploaded content. For example, a user may post a photo of them playing a sport with them and their team mates with smiles and hi-fiving, but this does not necessarily mean that the team is having success and could just be a triumph such as a goal or point etc. but anyone that did not participate in that game may not know the whole side to the content, in turn showing that this person must be a successful athlete apart of a team that often finds itself victorious. This is a prime example of selective self-presentation as the user is choosing to highlight the positive and completely remove the negative. Data taken from Andra Siibaks (Siibaks et al, 2009), proves that in the young population of social media site users, good looks and aesthetics of photos are the main factors for posting an image and expectations of viewing images on these sites. This pushes the expectation that images posted have to have the people in photos looking good or in poses. If the people in the images only select images they feel they look good in, it is most likely that so will others, meaning that no one will post any images the deem embarrassing or that they don’t think they will look good in. Selecting images such as these, aesthetic, good looking images, only displays the best in people and highlights the better side of people’s lives. This creates a cycle where users post images they are happy with themselves, gain likes and followers, others begin to look up to them, they post more images, more likes and followers, etc. etc. While this is a good thing for the users as it would be a boost to self-confidence and self-esteem, it may not be the greatest as it would cause others to try and manipulate images to make themselves feel more comfortable with the images the post with programs such as Photoshop. Use of these programs can affect young people, especially young women in their views of their own body image as Photoshop can help to achieve unrealistic body expectations. “These studies have revealed social media use to be associated with body image concerns, negative mood and the development of eating disorders, especially in those who regularly make appearance comparisons (Ella Guest, 2016).” When outsiders look in on the profiles of others and see appealing images, videos and content, they would not see any of the internal struggles of the people behind the pages however they are still heavily influential on other users as people want to be able to feel they look good, see interesting things and be able to be inspired by others to follow better lifestyles. In youth, the need for popularity is evident and some of the lengths that the youth will go to be popular can provide positive and negative effects on them, however if they succeed in growing their online presence and the online posting cycle continues to work for them, then their popularity offline becomes to increase as more and more people will know who they are and what they do because they have seen them post content online, drawing more attention to these people much like celebrities.

Online selective self-presentation allows for users of web 2.0 social media sites to gain control of their identity online. Identity on a shallow level is the characteristics and background of a person that builds up who they are. Identity becomes a huge part of someone’s popularity as their identity is how others see them as well as how someone sees themselves. Being able to control how people see you and how they perceive your life to be can be linked to narcissism. “Narcissism is a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and an exaggerated sense of self-importance. It is associated with positive self-views of agentic traits, including intelligence, physical attractiveness, and power… Narcissists do not focus on interpersonal intimacy, warmth, or other positive aspects of relational outcomes. Instead, they use relationships to appear popular and successful, they seek attractive, high status individuals as romantic partners… narcissists rarely pursue these commitments for long periods of time. Relationships are solely pursued when an opportunity for public glory presents itself. (Soraya Mehdizadeh, 2010)” Narcissism is something found amongst the youth in online environments where people use other people to propel themselves into a higher status online with more followers. These kinds of people will tend to thrive in an online environment as there is a huge opportunity for them to form many shallow relationships with others (eg. Facebook “friends”) where there is no commitment and/or actual depth to the relationship, just another person to add a like to content uploaded by the individual. In Soraya Mehdizadeh’s study, Narcissism and Self Esteem on Facebook (2010), the results link that users who access Facebook more times throughout the day are more likely to show narcissistic tendencies as opposed to those who access Facebook less times throughout the day. A negative correlation was evident amongst self-esteem levels and number of times Facebook was accessed in a day, meaning that those who show the most narcissistic traits like, shallow friendships, fake relationships, using others for popularity are associated with those who have low self-esteem. This means that the users who are constantly trying to prove themselves to others around them are struggling with their self-esteem, in turn their mental health. Being able to constantly check and monitor who sees and says what about you on your statuses, photos, posts and videos can cause people to worry incredible amounts about what others think, and try to paint themselves in the most positive way while seeking attention from others on the internet. Therefore, creating a negative effect on their mental health and wellbeing but creating popularity both online and offline.

When a young adult or teenager accesses their favourite social media platform they can experience many emotions. They may see posts of their friends doing things without them causing a fear of missing out, negative comments about themselves or their friends/family, an overwhelming positive response to a post or piece of media or even perhaps something to make them laugh like a meme. Unfortunately, overall youth social media users are not getting only positives out of being on social media. Young people using Instagram (according to the report #statusofmind [Royal Society for Public Health, 2017]) are experiencing the worst side effects of social media which are poor quality and amount of sleep, body image issues and a large fear of missing out. The report states that “Instagram is uniquely poised to set unrealistic expectations, feelings of inadequacy, and low self-esteem.” When a user experiences feelings of inadequacy they become to feel isolated in their own social groups amongst their peers, if a user is not experiencing particular benefits such as boosts to self-esteem with likes and follower increases on a profile, or even just positive affirmation from other users from their peer groups it can only further damage that particular persons perspective on their own identity. Having a damaged perspective of one’s own identity can mean that a person does not see themselves as someone who is popular amongst their peers as their social media presence is not as significant as a majority of their other peers.

Using the example of number of followers and likes, conversation between youth can often lead to how many likes people get on their posts and comments, which can be seen all over the internet with people begging and thanking people for likes as a way to brag about their popularity and influence on the internet. As a society, our youth are slowly transitioning into a vicious cycle where the competitive brags that used to be “I’m better at sports” is turning into “I’m more popular online” at the expense of the mental health of these youth as they have access to social media 24/7 as opposed to just being exposed to this at schools, universities, sports clubs, etc. at only certain times a week.

Youth having access to social media sites can start a problematic decline in mental health and conflicting inner thoughts on one’s identity due to being so concerned and consumed about people’s perceptions of them from social media sites like, Facebook, Instagram, twitter and YouTube. Some of the youth may find that they have a larger presence online due to intelligence, physical appearance, type of content, etc. and use this to their advantage to grow their popularity amongst their peers in institutions like schools, universities, sporting clubs, etc. While using social media websites as a way to create a self-selective reflection of themselves, essentially a highlight reel of the best moments in their lives at that point in time, it does come with its negative effects such as development of bad sleeping patterns, depressive tendencies, body image problems, conflicting identity problems, narcissism, toxic relationships and creating a fear of missing out, all of which can stick with these youth through their journey into adulthood creating more problems down the line. But all at what cost? To become more popular amongst their peers at that point in time and to grow their audience that will see their highlight reels of the best parts of their lives on the internet, all while these “picture perfect” lives might be struggling with their own mental health issues behind closed doors.

References

#StatusofMind. (2020). Retrieved 29 March 2020, from https://www.rsph.org.uk/our-work/campaigns/status-of-mind.html

#StatusofMind. (2020). Retrieved 29 March 2020, from https://www.rsph.org.uk/our-work/campaigns/status-of-mind.html

Guest, E. (2016). Photo editing: enhancing social media images to reflect appearance ideals. Journal Of Aesthetic Nursing5(9), 444-446. doi: 10.12968/joan.2016.5.9.444

Mehdizadeh, S. (2010). Self-Presentation 2.0: Narcissism and Self-Esteem on Facebook. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, And Social Networking13(4). Retrieved from http://doi.org.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/10.1089/cyber.2009.0257

Siibak, A. (2020). Constructing the Self through the Photo selection – Visual Impression Management on Social Networking Websites. Cyberpsychology: Journal Of Psychosocial Research On Cyberspace3(1). Retrieved from https://cyberpsychology.eu/article/view/4218/3260

Utz, S., Tanis, M., & Vermuelen, I. (2012). It Is All About Being Popular: The Effects of Need for Popularity on Social Network Site Use. Cyberpsychology, Behavior And Social Networking15(1), 37-42.

Weiderhold, B. (2020). The Tenuous Relationship Between Instagram and Teen Self-Identity. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, And Social Networking21(4). Retrieved from https://www-liebertpub-com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/doi/full/10.1089/cyber.2018.29108.bkw

17 replies on “Likes and Followers: The Influence of Youth Online Presence on Mental Health”

Hello Campbell,

Your paper was very interesting and one point that particularly stood out to me is when you mentioned that “social networking sites facilitate selective self-presentation” and then through their content, they choose to highlight the positive and completely remove the negative. This is actually a very good point here because on various social platforms especially Instagram, people have the tendency of faking a “perfect” life through the content they post and most of the time what they portray online does not reflect reality at all.

This reminds me of an article I read few years ago on an Australian Instagram celebrity named Essena O’Neill, who was 18 years old at that time and who decided to quit social media because it was too hard for her and this has affected her mentally. Have you heard of this article too? She has built a popularity for herself on every social media platform and especially on Instagram by constantly posting glamorous photos of her with the perfect body type, skin etc… However, at the end she admits that what she was showing online does not reflect who she really is and her real life. She even admits that if she wanted a picture at the beach, she would have hardly eaten on that day to have the perfect stomach on her pictures.

I chose the stream “Communities and Web 2.0” as well for my conference paper and if you want to have a look at mine, feel free to check it out 🙂 Here is the link:

https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/11/the-asmr-community-challenging-societys-misconception-on-asmr-videos/

Regards,

Anne-Sophie

Hi Anne-Sophie,
I’m glad you found my paper interesting. I think that social networking sites are allowing people to be selective of the portrayal of their own lives. I haven’t heard about that article but might have to do some further reading on it as it sounds like a real world example of what I was writing about. I’m sure it would be interesting and relevant to this topic as you said she had to alter her daily routine just to take photos at the beach.

Once again thanks for reading!

Campbell

Hi Campbell,

Really interesting article. Going through high school during a time where social media was a big thing i took notice of people worrying about their social media success because they knew it had an impact on how popular people saw them as. It’s a trap you’ve welly highlighted in your article, addressing the negative impacts it can have on someone. I find it intriguing to see how people are responding to this now and how they write about it. Good job 🙂

if you want to check out my article on communities and how they effect the information on web2..0 please check it out at https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/15/communities-are-web2-0-without-them-were-info-less/

Hi Charles,

Thanks! I also was going through high-school and was well aware of how people were always worrying about their digital appearance and its always interesting to see how different people think and react to it from all demographics, especially youth. I’ll for sure have a look at your article too!

Thanks,

Campbell

Hi Campbel,
Well done one your paper, i really enjoyed reading it.
Growing up I remember having the need to always use my social media because it was the “norm” but as i grew up and entered adulthood i try and not spend too much time on it. I too like Charles find it very interesting how society is responding to this topic and the impact it has.

Thanks,
Jade

Hi Jade,

Thank you, glad you enjoyed it. I find myself too spending less and less time on social media as theres so much more to life than being consumed by these sites, however they do have their benefits for networking and staying connected to friends and family.

Thanks,

Campbell

Hi Campbell,
I do agree, when i lived abroad social networks were the way of communication. I think there is just as many positives to social media platforms to negatives.

Thanks,
Jade

Hi Campbell

I thoroughly enjoyed your article and found everything you have identified as something that I witness on a daily basis. I believe social media is damaging young minds and impacting their perception of self-worth. I have personally been that person that perceived their self worth through the amount of likes on their profile picture . Do you think there should more education within schools for both primary and high school educating students on responsible social media use?

An article I believe you would find very interesting is an article by Rosen et.al (2013) that identifies links between mental health issues and technology and refers to them as iDisorders.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563212003172?casa_token=lqZ_pzIJJyIAAAAA:LxWbRTKE5D7nCuKk_No1r5DC5Jai26C1q7jI5ZvxjFttxVhrWDbE1Q3ixxbzK8LbgYTf-MIB6Ww

Hi Lochlan,

Thanks! I I think it would be a good idea for some form of education in high schools and even late primary school on how to manage and use social media responsibly. It would lead to a lot less stress and potential mental and physical health issues that seem to be coming from the youth using social media sites.

I had a look at the article and found the points highlighted very interesting and insightful towards my topic. Thanks for the suggestion!

Campbell

Hi Campbell

This is a topic which greatly resonated with me. Thanks for choosing something like this first of all. Secondly you were absolutely right about the ways in which social media influences the life of the youth and make them build themselves a reality which they are not true to themselves. I have been subjected to that kind of life when i started with social media and was fascinated by the concept of likes and followers and believed that it was something to be proud of and believe it or not we used to have competitions on who gets the most number of likes and one up each other in that topic. Then as the days went by it just felt that it wasn’t something that you should be affected by and should just let it as it is.
I think there is some kind of an education which should be given to young people who are about to step into the world of social media mainly on how to perceive life as it is and not to be influenced by the mans of social media. Do you think this would be a viable subject to be taught on schools or even colleges for the matter of fact?

I have written a piece on a topic which is closely related with this and I think your valuable ideas would be very useful.https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/23/instagram-marketing-has-revolutionized-social-commerce-the-consumer-trust-and-the-role-of-influencers/

Thanks and regards
Jashwanth

Hi Jashwanth,

I one hundred percent agree with you on some form of education being given to young people. I think it would benefit students in multiple ways that can relate to general well being and even using these sites for networking around their education too! I had a class in high school in year 7, which was all about how to use a computer, so from correctly/effectively using word, powerpoint, outlook etc. to using school communication channels to interact with educators and students. A class like this would be perfect opportunity to teach young people how to be responsible online, as that is around the age a majority of young people would start using social media to communicate with others, and even a class in older years too!

Thanks for your feedback,

Campbell

Hi Campbell,
Well written conference paper and good supporting arguments. Your paper was interesting and you illustrated good examples as well. It clearly stated how the social media allows the users to create their online identities and how this facilitates selective self-presentation, it also shed light on the way it is damaging the mental health of youngsters. I totally agree with your argument which leads to the negative repercussions on the life of the youngsters. I think that social media is not just enhancing an effective way of communication but it is also destroying youngster’s mindset while on their behavior and self-esteem.
Youngsters are obsessed by their number of likes and followers often exposed their private life just to gain popularity. They are being influences by social media influencers who are diminishing their true identity. I invite you to read more on this in my conference paper. Here is the link:
https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/11/youngsters-lifestyle-being-shaped-by-the-social-media-influencers/#comments
Have a good day,
Harmony.

Hi Harmony,

Thank you! I completely agree, it’s really sad to see the way it is affecting some people more than others and has such an influence on young people. I look forward to reading your conference paper and see your take!

Thanks again!
Campbell

Hi Campbell!

A great paper on a very the important topic about mental health. I agree with you about how social media has seemed to facilitate an even greater materialistic culture in which people, especially ones in a younger generation are constantly comparing themselves to others and to the competitive social standards which run rampant on social media. As mental health is becoming increasingly more serious and prevalent in younger and younger people, do you believe online platforms should have stricter guidelines and ages of consent? And what would be the best way to impose those?

Looking forward to hearing your response and thanks for your feedback on my paper!

Have a good day!
Leah

Hi Leah,

Thanks for your reply! I think that mental health itself is receiving a lot of attention in education currently, which is of course a good thing. But this to my knowledge doesn’t start to be recognised or understood properly by youth until around 13-14 years of age I believe. Most of, if not all social media platforms have always recommended the youngest age to be using them be 13 years old, and this doesn’t mean that kids have to sign up as soon as they are 13. I believe the longer youth prolong themselves from using social media the better as anonymity online will always be an issue for people of all ages online with targeted attacks, etc.

It is difficult to enforce people lying about age on these sites to because its just a data field that has no verification, and using any higher form of identification can cause all kinds of issues with identity privacy etc.

Thanks again!
Campbell

Hi Campbell,

This was a great read and a topic which I can also relate to. As mentioned above I have also found myself spending less time on social media because it can just consume you and waste so much time. I have also started unfollowing people who are portraying this image which is fake and unrealistic.

I feel like platforms such as Instagram and YouTube have boosted the internet celebrity and many people seem to follow everything these people do and they also want to emulate that in their social media or within their real life.

I definitely think their should be more education about social media and the impact on mental health as it’s a huge issue affecting a wide range of people. Although we may always see the ideal version of someone, I think more authenticity and real material would decrease negative impacts.

A great paper to read 🙂

Regards
Nathan

Hi Nathan,

Thanks! I couldn’t agree more with you. It really feels like there was a “golden age” whether it was just for users like us, or if it really was a time before all of the large influencers and corporations taking over these types of sites. I too have started to remove friends, stop following, etc. accounts that just become all about clicks, views, likes, followers as there is no depth and importance to their accounts that I can personally relate to.

Once again, couldn’t agree more! Educating the youth I believe will have an impact on their generations and their children’s generations. Social media has come into prevalence in the last 10-15 years so no one really understood its potential when it was first around, but now by educating the younger population about it, hopefully it will cause positive impacts for generations to come!

Thanks again!
Campbell

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