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The sad reality about getting older is that you realize people are not happy. They merely project themselves that way.

But you wouldn’t know that if you solely relied on your social media apps to infer how others are living and feeling. Scroll through your timeline long enough and your screen is bound to be bombarded with a plethora of filtered selfies, face-tuned physiques, and saturated tropical island vacation photos. 

It’s no secret that people use social media as a vehicle to flaunt their ideal state for the sake of virtual validation or to hide behind a screen, harass others and project their own insecurities onto unsuspecting strangers. While I may not bully pretty girls on my For Your Page (FYP) as a favorite pastime of mine or post as many selfies with the beloved grainy Visual Supply Company (VSCO) filter as I did in middle school, I’ve definitely indulged in the alter ego internet personality fad.

For an introverted girl like myself, the possibilities of an online persona give me a surge of serotonin that almost every social interaction I’ve ever had has stolen from me and briskly replaced with crippling social anxiety. My favorite type of online persona is the anonymous kind. You know, the color-coded avatars on Reddit that look as friendly as the Michelin man, but are kind of dead behind the eyes? Yeah, that kind. And the Tik Tok and YouTube kind– no profile picture, just vibes. 

I love subscribing to an unlimited number of interesting people from across the world without worrying about my follower-to-following ratio as I do on Instagram, the superficial queen of social media. It’s liberating to join communities that stimulate my mind and mood and be able to interact with them without the added social pressure of worrying about how I am being perceived, which is something that haunts me after every hangout or Zoom meeting I have with others. Did I smile enough so that I appeared friendly, but not too much so that they didn’t think I was a ditzy kiss-up? In actuality, I probably wasn’t even on the first panel of boxes that were featured on the mainframe of Zoom, but these are the nitpicky questions that keep me up late at night.

Another dilemma that keeps me up at night is whether or not I am authentic enough. Am I the girl from my Instagram with a bunch of outdated photos going back to 2013? Do I identify more with any of my multiple Reddit accounts that are split into school-related subs, memes, and erotica? Or does the scarily precise Tik Tok algorithm know me best? I’d say the predicament with having an online persona is that your personality is split into a series of different apps, so no one app can fully encapsulate who you are as a whole. 

And as an introvert, this can be especially confusing and crisis-inducing because I’m not even fully myself in real life! There’s an imaginary filter that I have on at all times which I only seldom lift during moments when I feel safe and like my dorky and weird self won’t be rejected by the people in my life.

Is it tiring living such a guarded life? Maybe. I haven’t really thought about it since it’s become second nature to me, but now that I am thinking about it, it doesn’t seem to be too different from literally everyone else’s experience using social media. 

Social media can be addictive because instead of worrying how others perceived you at that event you went to last Friday and cringing at moments you thought were embarrassing, it is able to tell you right off the bat what people think of you. Feeling ugly today? A normal response would either be to scroll on your explore page and play the comparison game or to post a selfie in hopes of some supportive likes and if you’re lucky, comments. Even if you don’t decide to post a selfie, you’ll be able to pinpoint exactly where you stand among societal beauty standards based on the models you see pop up on your explore page.

So while social media can sometimes be a welcomed distraction from responsibilities like impending deadlines, it can also be a curse that shows you a distorted view of reality, leading to negative feelings about yourself when your life fails to mimic what you see on your screen. 

And that is why you should be wary of the addictive, yet carefully curated and misleading aphrodisiac that is an online persona.

Rebekah Sim

UC Berkeley '22

Rebekah Sim is a fourth-year at UC Berkeley pursuing a major in English and a minor in Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies. The Los Angeles transplant likes to spend her time trying out new restaurants and snapping photos of plants and urban wildlife while out and about.
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