Most of us are aware of how social media amplifies the smallest moments in our lives and that we can’t always believe the fairy-tale-like, overachieving lives many people seem to lead. Social media tends to act as our own personal highlight reels, with many of us choosing to only share the good, and amplifying the narratives we want people to know about our lives. Content is king, and mining our day-to-day lives as content and receiving reactions from it can sometimes incentivise people to over-sensationalise their social media personas.
So, it comes as no surprise that some people have completely different personalities online and in real life. But what if this is someone you’ve known for a long time and are finding it hard to deal with this made-up or over-exaggerated version of their personality for their online followers?
Imagine having a friend who overshares on social media, whether it’s about something as trivial as what they ate or way-too-much-info posts about their partner. Or if you’ve rolled your eyes every time your friend snaps a photo of their meal when you’re out together, having to pause and smile while they do so, so you don’t appear rude by eating before them. Or someone who posts endless selfies for no reason whatsoever, just to get compliments. It could even be the case of someone you’ve known for years who is suddenly posting about trendy topics you know for sure they don’t care about, just to show they’re in the know of the latest talking points.
Social media gives us the freedom to curate our online persona so it’s totally understandable if someone chooses to only post about the ‘good’ bits. However, if there’s a disconnect between the person you know and the person on social media, it’s normal to have mixed reactions about that friendship. You could be asking yourself, “Who is this person?”, or dreading having to look at their social media accounts and ‘like’ every post because you’re a good friend and don’t want to offend them.
Dr Natalie Games, a clinical psychologist at Alliance Counselling, says that although our digital identity may be fragmented, it seems clear that our various online personas are all digital trails of the same persona; different parts of our same core self.
“Individuals have the opportunity to share parts of themselves on social media that they can’t share in person, those same self-presentations don’t always feel authentic to friends,” she explains. “A study by Pew found that roughly three-quarters (77%) of people using social media are less authentic and real on social media than they are offline.”
Men and women communicate differently in real life and how they use social media reflects this too. Dr Games shares that there’s even a difference in self-presentation between men and women. For example, women post more portrait photos with direct eye contact, while men prefer more full-body shots that include other people. Male users are also more likely to post more outdoor photographs which present them in a more adventurous light.
The language used differs too. Men are more likely to use authoritative language and more formal speech than women, and women also use words more emotionally.
“A recently study examined 15.4 million status updates made by 68,000 Facebook users and found that words describing positive emotions (e.g. “excited”, “happy”, “love”), social relationships (e.g. “friends”, “family”), and intensive adverbs (e.g. “sooo”, “sooooo”, “ridiculously”) were predominantly used by women,” says Dr Games. “By comparison, male topics were fact-oriented and included words related to politics (e.g. “government”, “tax”), sports and competition (e.g. “football”, “season”, “win”, “battle”).”
If you find yourself in a situation where your friend’s online persona makes you uncomfortable, how you react depends on what they’re actually posting.
“I believe in honesty in our relationships but I think that if your friend is engaged in embarrassing but ultimately harmless internet behaviour in most instances it’s fine to simply ignore it,” says Dr Games. “It doesn’t mean you need to consume their content – in fact it might be best not to. It’s best to manage these situations by simply muting the friend, the hashtag or specific words. At this stage you can keep it light and say things like, ‘I haven’t been on social media as much lately!’ if your friend asks why you haven’t liked their post or commented.”
However, if their internet behaviour could potentially hurt their reputation – or yours, if people know you’re close – or your relationship, then talking about it is actually the kindest move. Dr Games admits that these conversations can be challenging and awkward but they are important if you are interested in preserving the friendship.
“If you feel you need to speak up or respond to a friends’ post you find offensive, turn to a private – or even a phone call or in-person – conversation before taking your grievance public,” she advises. “Directly sorting out conflicts is the best approach. Reducing your discussion to just those involved in the original conflict reduces the chances of pulling others into the mix which can make matters worse.”
And if the issue is that your friend is ignorant or bigoted online, you should kindly but clearly address the behaviour directly. Dr Games suggests addressing the post online like a warning by saying something simple (using authentic language to you) like ‘whoah not cool!’. Then take the conversation offline – follow up with a more complete response.
Jamina, 38, had a close friend she had known since they were teens whose TMI Facebook posts were just too much to bear. “She’d post at least five times a day and share photos of her husband that nobody wanted to see,” says the chef. “They weren’t intimate or x-rated but they were of him relaxing around the house in various stages of undress or seating positions that just made me uncomfortable. I liked him a lot but didn’t want to know what he wore – or didn’t wear – at home or what pet names they called each other. It made things weird when we met in person and I soon found myself making excuses not to meet and now rarely meet her.”
“I have a friend who is almost like a stalker,” shares Gillian, 35. “Whenever I posted about where I’ve been, she would comment that she will join me next time, even though we hardly meet. And when I moved into a new home, she kept asking to be invited every time I posted a photo and let me know whenever she was in the area.
“It made me uncomfortable and I have unfollowed her but it has also resulted in me hardly posting personal stuff anymore,” adds the freelance designer.
There could be privacy concerns too if your friend is always tagging you in photos when you’re out together but you don’t actually want to reveal where you are. Misha, 30, experienced this with a friend. “I worked for a boss who was very strict about us getting in to the office on time and she commented once about a colleague who always liked to go to bars at night,” says the homemaker. “Although I know she had no right to control what I did in my personal time, I didn’t want her to know if I had a late night with friends. But this one friend always tagged me when we were out and I had to tell her to stop it. She was a bit angry at first but later realised she had to respect my privacy and we’re still good friends now.”
Dr Games agrees with this approach: “If your friend posts a photo and you don’t like or approve of it then ask them directly to remove an image or video. Respecting the choices and decisions your friends make about their personal privacy means they are more likely to respect your choices and decisions too.
“You can also untag yourself from a photo you don’t want to be linked to you. Sometimes people have decided to take the steps to unfriend, unfollow, block and untag or delete photos after a friendship ends,” she adds.
It’s also important to point out that if you don’t like someone not being authentic online, you shouldn’t do the same either. For example, there are things you can do to ensure you don’t overshare.
“Remember not to post when you’re emotional – give yourself some proper time and space to process your feelings and collect your thoughts before posting,” says Dr Games.
It’s also crucial to protect your and your friends’ privacy. Dr Games notes to keep in mind that our social networks, and the comments that we make on them are easier to find than ever. It’s become a common practice for employers or universities to search prospective applicant’s or student’s social media profiles and in these cases, it’s not just our relationships that suffer from over sharing but our opportunities, too.
“Make it a habit to only share private and sensitive information face-to-face or by phone,” she adds. “If you don’t feel good about posting a photo or video of someone because you think it could have long-term consequences for them, don’t post it.”
Text: Balvinder Sandhu/HerWorld