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The Change of My Perception Towards Social Media Began When I Got Hacked: A Reflection and Hope for the Future

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Queen's U chapter.

Dear HerCampus readers,

As a Gen-Zer born in 2001, I have quite literally grown up with social media. More likely than not, most of you reading this are using some form of social media to read this. Social media, as most know, is a place where we can fall for people’s best highlights. Many users love to only post the good, the hot, the sexy, and the fun. It is also effortless to fall for scams, especially on the internet, in this day and age. Instagram has certainly evolved a lot in the past decade since we started using it, and some of those changes have not all been good, some have even been harmful and dangerous. We can’t trust everyone, and we can never be too careful when someone we don’t know asks for our assistance. Instagram has, in my view, eventually become a platform where users are more susceptible to scams, deceits, and manipulation because of all the new functions and features. That is why exercising caution and not clicking on links before truly confirming with the other person is so important. My story of being hacked, frankly, has brought me tremendous self-growth.

The ordeal began last month, when I received a direct message from a friend on Instagram (whose account was compromised at the time), saying “Hey mate, I need your help” along with a lot of crying emojis, and “I was trying to login to Instagram on my new phone, and they need me to find someone to click a link for me, will you?”

At first, I was a little suspicious, as this person and I had only met and talked a few times last year. Why reach out to me out of all people? However, considering the friendly relationship and how I had previously been a mentor for this friend, I believed it was my friend on the other end. I am also quite gullible and I always want to help others, so I went with it. Before I knew it, though, I was locked out and the hacker changed all my contact information so I could not regain access to my account. It was scary and frustrating since I had a lot of photos, memories, and interactions with friends on that account I had been using for many years. Having to put in the work to make a new account and start over, along with informing everyone I had been hacked was tedious. It’s unfair that a tiny link could end it all coupled with the fact that Instagram’s customer service doing nothing. However, it is just Instagram at the end of the day, so my reaction made me re-evaluate my values. What is essential in my life right now? How much time, effort, and wasted energy do I want to put into curating a perfect Instagram feed?

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/ Unsplash

I am living in my Reputation era now, too, as a big Taylor Swift fan (Taylor Swift reference of her 2017 ‘Reputation’ album, that is all about change, re-invention, and the ways our reputation is perceived in the real world. I felt just like Taylor when she went through her darkest moments with the whole Kanye West/Kim Kardashian drama (where billions of people sent her snake emojis to bully her and thus deleted her social media for a year) because it’s making me change and evaluate my social media usage. As someone who has been using Instagram since 2012, with this summer marking a decade of my Instagram career, I too have entered a turning point. When I first started using Instagram in 2012, I was eleven years old. Back then, the app was simple, just like the simplicity of being eleven and not yet needing to have a care in the world, and people would post the most random, low-quality photos of their window or baking, and no one cared. We just all loved it. Fast forward ten years to now, when I am twenty, the app has certainly changed in ways that are draining for a lot of people–with the high-definition filters, stories, direct messages, videos, business, influencer platforms, and augmented reality feel. Funny how the development of Instagram’s features grew up with my own life getting more complex over the years as part of growing up. knew I had to change my perception of Instagram going forward. I cannot let some app dictate my thoughts, feelings, and self-confidence. Something little or big can be traumatizing, so indeed, having my information compromised made me think more critically in everyday life. For example, a week after the Instagram hack, I saved myself from another scam, a street scam that could have been life-threatening. I was proud of myself for outsmarting a scammer this time. I wish scammers didn’t exist in our society. I feel like people have become self-centred and entitled. It’s not getting better in the pandemic either. Safety is so important, and no fun can come without security. Instagram has become an easy target of scams, so there are pros to staying off this app. Having run into several scams in a few weeks has alerted me to be more cautious and think before I say yes to someone’s request, especially if I do not know them well.

Being unable to access Instagram and having my device blocked from making a new account has been an eye-opening experience for who I connect with. I reflected, for instance, the way I would let anyone follow me if I knew they at least went to the same school or knew a mutual friend. In other words, as long as they weren’t a total stranger, they were good to go. Not always the safest thing, though, as shown by how it was my friend’s compromised account that targeted me. Instagram can also own any user’s content as their own, so why give so much power to something that doesn’t want to love and protect me as much in return? I also reflected on my para-social relationships with celebrities and public figures on the internet. I learned something important: While I love Taylor Swift and dream of meeting her and love the friends the fandom brought me, in the end, I don’t know her personally and never will. They are all just people doing their jobs with their fans as part of their source of income (as much as they say they love their fans). Public figures, too, have struggles, pick and choose their friends, have every day responsibilities to attend to, and people to prioritize. Even so, knowing them does not take away boundaries that exist between me and any human being. While stan culture is always a fun hobby, it is better to feed me more energy. Yes, Taylor is a super successful household name. She’s super-rich, talented, kind, beautiful, and a 1989-born influence on 21st-century kids like me, but being forced out of Instagram made me come into myself. I, too, am and can be excellent in my way. I can’t ever “be” Taylor because I am Grace and not her, and that’s okay! I need to accept myself and not envy everything she is. I too can be an influence in this society if I focus on what matters and be stronger than a social media app. A substantial psychological piece ties into our relationships with celebrities, and I tended to cling to the arts, celebrities, and fandoms because of the comfort it brings. I struggle with confidence in social settings and am actively working to combat this anxiety. As a high-achiever who wants perfectionism, this has undoubtedly affected my optimism levels.

From my reflections of my persona outside and inside of social media, I realized I got a little too used to being doubtful and straying away from letting people into my life on a deeper level. I didn’t want to let people in my safe zone. I can’t be hurt again if I don’t let anyone in. I could do my own thing and work hard on my dreams, but at the same time, this took me until university to realize that life is to be lived with others. We are social beings who need to co-exist with others and form meaningful friendships. I deserve love and companionship. Things can change; I need to believe it can, and I need to work hard for that. I carried a lot of that social trauma from high school into my university social settings. Even though I have made a lot of new friends and have a lovely friend group, I noticed that I tend to naturally isolate myself from big social settings or take extra mental preparation for social gatherings due to fear of rejection. I tend to immediately assume that a group of people I meet will not like me. Same thing with job applications: I tend to doubt myself and don’t try for fear I will not be good enough. I had to start making meaningful changes in my perception of myself and others. Being hacked and forced to take a break led me to change. Instagram became a hiding spot for me, a place where I could create another ideal imagined world where I am an extraordinary, influential, Instagram-model gorgeous with zero flaws, who has tons of friends sitting by me all the time, but now I must take this mask off.

Like any vice, I became addicted, I LOVED the high I got from likes and comments of approval and went through withdrawal when I lost my account. However, I am also strong enough to get through this. We can all earn a life where all those ideal scenarios I described can be real and current, not just curated on a screen. When I re-visited New York City during reading week, a few weeks after this happened, it brought me a passion and thrill beyond the reaches of social media. I visited so many cool places like the New York Times building, which reminded me of my dream job and dream city. To get there, and afford life there, is only possible through dedication and good financial planning. Less time on social media and more time striving for these goals is worthwhile. If I was going to die tomorrow, I do not want to spend my last day mindlessly scrolling.

Today, while I created a new Instagram account that looks like it is here to stay, after suddenly getting an apology email from Instagram (again, back to the peculiarity of Instagram’s customer support services that needs revamp), I’m happy that I am on a new journey of using Instagram more wisely, as well as monitoring for when I grow too attached to that world. It’s no wonder issues like cyberbullying and teen suicide is so rampant because Instagram is such an easy place to harm other people emotionally and psychologically with their support team rarely taking action to stop it, like not removing certain accounts when they need to be gone. I also want to attend to the social struggles I have instead of suppressing them so that who I am online versus in-person are no longer strangers. I want to start living more authentically and cultivate a lot of long-lasting, authentic relationships with people. So-called friendships through a screen of likes, comments, and follows, do not count anymore. I am also done with seasonal friendships that come and go. It’s time to start building a life I am proud of. If I want my dream job and to live in my dream city, I have to work for it. The same thing with friends, if I wish to have beautiful friendships, I have to work hard on myself and put myself out there. None of this will come easy, especially as someone who has been so absorbed and obsessed with the world of social media for so long, but as the saying goes, we miss 100% of the shots we don’t take. Do everything in moderation, and remember that nothing you see online is as great as it seems.

HC Queen's U contributor