The Warped Personas of Social Media

Social media can make a mouse look like a lion, or a lion look like a dragon. To the surprise of no one, nowadays, social media is full of either deliberately or unintentionally misleading images.

People try to make their lives appear more eventful than they are, people try to make themselves appear more beautiful than they are, and people try to make themselves appear more wealthy or happy than they actually are. The ability to control what aspects of your life someone can see has allowed for the creation of idealized narratives.

Most people rely on social media to craft their idealized lives and then present that to their friends, family, and greater public. In essence, social media has allowed people to present information that misleads others to thinking something that is not really true.

Those who only flash their wealth on social media are in all reality not as rich as they appear to be, those who show only the happiest moments of their life on social media are often not as happy as they appear, and those who show only their most attractive version of themselves are often less attractive in person.

With social media, we can see the creation of something from deception; we see people create images of who they are, of which have nothing to do with their genuine identity. People present fake happiness, fake wealth, and fake aesthetics.

But that is, besides being a commonly understood point, also not the only thing social media has done. In a much more nuanced reflection, we can also see social media warps proportions.

Not just the proportions of our bodies or lives, but of who we actually are: our personalities, beliefs, and emotions. Because social media functions like a spotlight, much more emphasis and attention is given to something, even if the attention and emphasis is entirely unwarranted or out-of-context.

Someone who presents only happiness, for example, on their social media profiles will not only create a fictional narrative of their life, but they will also downplay their own sadness. Not only do we think the person is happy, but we also think their tendency to be sad is diminished in comparison to others. Put otherwise, we think the person is filled with more positive emotions than is actually the case: the proportions of positive and negative emotions are warped. Put another way, suppose when we  first meet someone we think a priori that their happiness and sadness are equally weighted, 5 grams of happiness on the left and 5 grams of sadness on the right. And, as usual, after we get to know the person we proceed to engage in their social media content. Now suppose, when we engage in their content, we see only happiness. From there, we might readjust our scale to 8 grams of happiness on the left and 2 grams of sadness on the right: effectively distorting the actuality of the person’s scale.

Much the same is true not just for emotions but also beliefs and traits. Someone who is introverted yet ensures to take many photos when socializing can appear to be more social than they are; meaning, they distort our perception of their willingness to socialize. Someone who is closed to experience can take plenty of photos whenever they try something new, which again can distort our perception of their willingness to be open to experience.

So, the creation of a fake persona is not all that happens when people propagandize themselves on social media, but they effectively distort their personhood by unwittingly tipping scales. Those who present themselves as happy usually do not intend to say they cannot feel sadness, or that they experience sadness any less than others, they only mean to say they are having a wonderful life. But as a result of their idealized narratives, they accidentally suppose they experience sadness less than others by making it seem as though they never experience it. Social media allows us to both create fake personas, but also allows us to distort our personhood.

Email Subscription


Ideasinhat is a business development analyst and longtime reader of academic literature. He writes books and essays on science and philosophy, and posts them to this website. The essays, as with the books, cover topics from psychology, philosophy, and cognitive science to economics, politics, and law.

Leave a Reply