The thing with writing about social-media etiquette is that hardly anyone ever thinks they’re guilty of anything untoward. We’re a society of blithely unaware Instatwits, living life in a constant state of either being annoying or being annoyed.
I’m a fully paid-up member of both camps, by the way. Guilty as charged. And I can’t tell you the roller coaster of emotions I put myself through every single time I pick up my phone. A 10-minute Instagram spree sees me go from incandescent with rage – usually thanks to butchered Maya Angelou captions. She did not write I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings so it could be misquoted under a picture of you in your underwear – just saying – to weeping over some kind of one-legged pet being reunited with its mother, more often than not via a jaunt into the murky waters of being insanely jealous of someone whose life I don’t actually have the ﬁrst clue about.
Really good tans tend to do this for me. And ﬂowing hair juxtaposed against tropical fruit platters. If you want to experience a hint of my pain, please feel free to peruse a personal favourite, the stupidly aspirational, watermelon-heavy @blondesandcookies, which I’m pretty sure will be directly responsible for me needing 60 to 70 per cent more therapy in later life than I possibly would have required otherwise.
And yet, and yet… I carry on regardless, stuck in a cycle, making mincemeat of my emotions and self-esteem on an hourly basis. Both have taken a pounding since the advent of social media. But the most ironic part? That on a bad day, when I feel particularly knackered, or ugly, or PMS-riddled, it’s directly proportionate to how much I have found myself judging other people. Often total strangers. And not just for what I deem poor SM manners – oversharing, over-airbrushing, over-hashtagging – but also for things that I’m blatantly guilty of as well.
Here is a fun, but by no means deﬁnitive, list of them: Really average #OOTDs taken in bad light. Borderline-unprofessional beach selﬁes. Humblebrags. Not-so-humblebrags. Reposting memes without crediting the source. Captioning something ‘mood’ instead of the more transparent, “I am braindead today. Please don’t unfollow me.” And sure, from time to time, even oversharing, over-airbrushing and overhashtagging. Yes, it appears I am a #massive #hypocrite.
The thing is, anecdotal evidence/sketchy Googling makes me pretty sure I’m not on my own. For as inclusive and empowering as social media can be, for every girl preaching sisterhood and body positivity, there’s another sneering at cellulite – mine, probably – and telling her mates my boyfriend is way out of my league. This actually happened to me, by the way. I found an online forum of girls in Russia announcing it to each other it in a thread.
So, based on all the above, I’d hesitantly wager that at least a few of us have sent a judgy screenshot of someone’s post and/or status to a mate on the DL. Or perhaps received a few ourselves, heavy with the expectation that we’d join in. There’s no denying that a relentless stream of consciousness from the darkest corners of other people’s minds has provided a screenshotter’s paradise. But the truly worrying part is how that has manifested itself in our daily lives. Why are we now all-too-ready to comment on a botched Facetune job, or sling mud at someone for spamming our feed with baby pics/Theresa May memes? Has social media made us all a bit, well… mean?
Happy news: science says yes, with a study undertaken at the University of Windsor, Ontario associating it with negative effects on reﬂective thought and indicators of compromised moral judgment. But don’t start self-punishing too soon. It might be a case of don’t hate the player, hate the game, with all of us just innocents caught in the crossﬁre of platforms designed to make us ruthlessly compare ourselves. Regardless, though – even if this is true, we still have a responsibility to step back and accept accountability. Judging and gossiping may be as old as dirt – psychologists argue it serves as a social function to bring us closer – but just because our trolling’s not out in the open, it doesn’t mean we’re not guilty of it.