The NIDA Blog Team
July 25 2016

Social media is a terrific way to connect with friends, and to see what’s going on with people you admire—like celebrities and athletes—on Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, and other sites.

If you want to be a savvy user of social media, however, it helps to remember that what you see on it isn’t always true, and almost never shows the complete picture.

Insta-bummed

People tend to present the best possible image of themselves on social media. They share fun things they’ve done and show their most flattering photos, creating the impression that their life is just one good time after another.

Ironically, all that positive information can have a negative effect.

For some people, looking at all those “perfect” lives can be a serious downer. Research has shown that the more time a person spends looking at social media profiles, the more likely the person may be to have negative feelings like loneliness and envy, or to feel that their own life is lame compared to others’ lives.

Real fakes

Sometimes “showing yourself in the best light” can go too far. An Australian teen, Essena O'Neill, had over 612,000 followers on Instagram before she quit last year; after quitting, she rewrote many of her photo captions to say that the photos weren’t real life and were mostly designed to sell products.

That may sound like an extreme case, but most celebrities make sure that every image they can control on social media looks great.

And that’s not all. There are a lot of fake social media accounts out there. According to research, up to 8 percent of Instagram accounts—that’s about 24 million accounts—are created by “bots” for marketing purposes. Other fake Instagram accounts are set up by hackers. Many of the fakes are made to look like they belong to celebrities: it’s happened to Beyoncé, Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Akon, KRS-One, Selena Gomez, Kim Kardashian, and many others.

It isn’t just Instagram. Facebook estimates that approximately two percent of their user accounts are fake or spam; that’s 20 million fake accounts worldwide. And there may be over 40 million fake accounts on Twitter!

You don’t have to completely stop using social media to avoid the downsides. Just keep in mind as you use it that, while it can be fun and informative, social media may—or may not—be showing what’s real, and it definitely isn’t telling the whole story about anybody’s life.

Learn more: how can you stand up against bullying?

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