Followers, Retweets, and Likes: My Journey with Social Media

Social media has an undeniable grip on our daily lives. No matter who you are, where you live, or what you do, the far-reaching influence of SNS platforms has probably affected your life in one way or another, regardless of how often you actually use it. Coming from a generation that grew up with the rise of such social networking, I was exposed to its good and bad sides at an impressionable age. I didn’t realize it at the time, but hindsight has shown me that social media pushed me to corners that were, at times, emotionally taxing. 

Photo by Kon Karampelas

Most social media users are, to a certain degree, aware of the effects that it can have on their self-esteem. We are constantly reminded of what the numbers we see on our screens can do to us and yet, we are somehow unable to step away from its allure. When I first started using Twitter in middle school, I was only 13 years old. I had no idea what Twitter was really about, how to use it, or why it was becoming so popular, but my naive curiosity was eventually replaced by a new interest — my follower count. Over the course of my adolescent years, I became unhealthily fixated with my growing number of followers. I began to take note of what sort of things boosted my internet popularity (e.g. translations, concert photos) vs. what dropped it (e.g. topics that deviated from what I was “known” for). I would mentally filter my tweets before posting them, thinking of what would get the most retweets, and how to attract more attention. What used to be a personal account became a space for me to paint out an attractive persona, a shiny, polished version of my real self where only my likable qualities were on display; I was so desperate to be liked. Twitter Christie was a funny, sarcastic teenager who went to all the concerts, got autographed albums from the hottest bands, and was the quickest to post updates. In other words, Twitter Christie was the girl I wished I could be 24/7. It’s embarrassing to think about this part of my internet history, but back then, it was an amazingly significant aspect of my social life.

Although I’ve grown out of this phase and regret the amount of time I spent over something so shallow, the lessons I learned from my previous mindset are things that need more awareness. It’s disturbing that your mind can reach a point where it convinces yourself that a complete stranger’s approval is necessary for your confidence, because a Twitter or Instagram account can easily be deleted within a matter of seconds. How (and why) is it that something so temporary has such a hold on the way we perceive ourselves? Asking yourself this is one way to develop a healthier approach to how you utilize social media. It’s difficult to absorb the understanding that a high follower count doesn’t mean anything worthwhile — trust me, it took me a long time to get this in my head — but recognizing the way it can affect your mental health is an important step that is very much necessary. 

Photo by George Pagan III

Being active on social media is fine in itself. It lets you connect with people from around the world instantly and provides easy access to news updates. It can act as a digital log of your favorite memories, introduce you to new communities, and more. At the same time, you should always remind yourself that you can’t be defined by a mere number. Think about it — the number of likes you get on a post won’t affect your life when you deactivate your account, so why should it matter when it’s active? All this might sound like something out of a corny coming-of-age movie (“You’re you, and that’s what makes you special!”), but it’s a concept that needs to be ingrained in you. Maintain a healthy relationship with social media, and you’ll get so much more out of your internet experience.