Why Facebook Does Not Reflect Reality

Facebook vs reality

I went through a divorce during the Social Media Age.  It can be rough having your life thrown out of balance, but then looking on Facebook and feeling like you are the only unhappy person in a sea of perfect lives. This feeling underscores the classic Facebook vs reality conundrum many of us face. 

I decided not to discuss the impending separation and kept all those intense negative emotions to myself, a therapist, and two close friends.  It was a real shock to people when my Facebook status went from married to single. I received a lot of comments like “WHAT?!?!” or “How could this happen?

We generally believe that social media is a true representation of that person’s life.  Even after the divorce and knowing that I selectively post content, I still fall into this trap when viewing other people’s pages.  A few years ago a good friend of mine had a baby boy, and her wall overflowed with happy pictures of her new life.  I envied how easily she took to new motherhood since my own transition had been rough.  My envy lasted only until I caught up with her a month later and learned that she had severe post-partum depression.

The key lesson here: social media does not honestly reflect anyone’s real life. 

Facebook vs Reality

While a select few do “tell all” on Facebook – from family arguments to political opinions to workplace drama – most people don’t.   Just like any other face we present to the world, Facebook represents only a glimpse of that person’s life.  This seems obvious in theory, but it’s more difficult to remember the Facebook vs reality dichotomy in practice. We tend to take things at face value.  So if you view someone’s posts and you see a trend, you apply that trend to their entire life.  You assume you know them better than you do.

We are not getting a front-row seat into anyone’s life.  We may know more about their day-to-day lives, but their emotions, their struggles, and even their inner personality can often remain hidden.

This does not mean I am against social media.  Quite the opposite: I love to use it as a medium to keep in touch with family, friends, and even acquaintances.  I love watching my peers raise families as I raise my own.  It’s great when my mother-in-law can instantly view pictures of her grandbabies.  I love sharing hobby-based posts with my like-minded friends.  For me, it’s an effective way to communicate information in an Internet-heavy world.  Social media has its advantages, and like it or not, it’s here to stay.

What this does mean, though, is we have to break the expectation that what we see on social media reflects an entire human being’s experience.  Facebook is yet another image of ourselves we present to the world.  It is not a diary so much as a bulletin board of the images and words someone wants to share with you. 

A happy status update does not necessarily mean your friend is living the best life ever.  A wall full of funny cat pictures doesn’t mean that person doesn’t care about more serious issues.  We are all human and experiencing human emotions, and that’s not necessarily going to come through on the Internet.

So by all means, enjoy social media.  Share a photo, comment on a status, and laugh at the memes.  Just don’t be jealous at someone with the “perfect life.”  Don’t assume that a person is boasting just because they post a lot of pretty pictures.  Don’t think you know somebody until you can have a real conversation.  It takes more than a passing glance at a webpage to truly understand the people you like.

14 thoughts on “Why Facebook Does Not Reflect Reality”

  1. I deleted my facebook account a few weeks ago because it simply makes me despise all of my friends and family. Most people I know don’t post anything other than the most perfect thankful and happy posts. I feel like demon spawn for being realistic and posting if I am having a less than stellar day. I have been accused of being dramatic for admitting I have a less than perfect life. When I post happy milestones no one seems to care about those either. I only keep friends that I know in real life, though most of them I have not seen in years because I moved to another country. I had to admit to myself these people are no longer my friends and it was time to let go. Closing my account was like a weight lifted off me.

    1. I’m glad to hear that you made a choice that enriched your relationships. I have many friends who have made the same choice, and it was the right decision for them. There’s no reason to hang onto something that makes you feel terrible or diminishes the relationships you have.

    2. I keep posting my imperfect life even when nobody commented on what I wrote.
      Somebody gets to be real and it will show who are the ones that truly care.

  2. Good for you, Denise. Social media is an illusion of true social interaction. It’s an attempt to create a photo album to force to be shared with anyone who knows you. It’s a way to keep tabs with little or no emotional or time commitment, and little true vulnerability. It’s a way to get a laugh at someone else’s expense when they break the unwritten rules of posting.

  3. An interesting post Deborah. I’m quite late to social media, having shunned it for many years in the belief that it was superficial and full of celebrity-speak; and to some extent I believe this to be true.

    But of course, we get a choice in what we see (sort of!). I choose to avoid celebrity hype and consequently skim over updates of this nature. However, I’ve been inspired by many of the posts from family and friends who make a point of posting positive life experiences on their profile. It’s made me more aware of places I’d like to visit, things to see and do and people I should make more effort to see.

    But with this choice has also come the decision to limit or even avoid overly negative updates. We all have problems and issues but airing them in public isn’t something I’m inclined to do. However, I’m more than ready to meet up with a friend who needs support.

    1. Like you, I’m also inspired by many positive posts. Even in the midst of great tragedy, I know people who can relate powerful stories. There is definitely a great advantage to social media, but it is different than having a conversation or seeing them face-to-face. Each person has to decide how to communicate using a variety of methods.

  4. Facebook is becoming a crutch for some people to express themselves and receive social acceptance – there needs to be a balance. In time people will move to something new – Social Networks have a lifecycle!

    1. It’s true that some people use Facebook to express themselves more than others. The key is to understand not everyone uses it that way. And I agree that at some point something else will take its place.

  5. Facebook is pain nowadays. I am a student living in Germany and all I am seeing is girls crying about their life, stupid videos and pictures, etc. Facebook changed alot in the past years.

    1. Facebook provides a very interesting social experiment. You can see people go in the same cycles. When I hit my late 20s, it seemed like everyone I knew was getting married. Now it’s full of baby pictures. It’s certainly annoying to some people, a delight to others. I’m sure Facebook will continue to change as the people I know and the platform grows.

  6. I’m reluctand to share my feelings and personal live on facebook and this article convinces even more that it is the correct attitude. Real life and facebook live are not the same. Facebook is an image of yourself, an ilusion.

    1. Once I realized that Facebook isn’t a diary, but more of a bulletin board, I became more comfortable with it. It’s certainly not a 100% reflection of me, more of a piece of me but not the whole picture, but I am the kind of person who presents myself different ways in different situations and am okay with that. My husband is the opposite: what you see is what you get, no matter what the situation. My husband also doesn’t use Facebook, and I think that’s one of the reasons why.

  7. It’s true that many people only show the best parts of their life on Facebook. But it’s really important to know that those people also have a lot of troubles in their life. Having a perfect life is just impossible. So when you have a friend on Facebook who only post positive stories and pictures, you immediately know they aren’t telling the truth. Otherwise there is a small group of people who only show the worst chapters of their life on social media and then I think they are just looking for some empathy. As in real life, I think you also need to be yourself on social media. And how do you know someone is honest about his/her life on social media? If you can find positive and negative pictures, comments etc. on that person’s Facebook in a balanced quantity.

    1. That’s an interesting take on Facebook. I know many people who fall largely into the “only posting positive things” realm, and I don’t think they are being untrue to themselves. I think they see Facebook as a big open public room, and they wouldn’t be negative in a large open space online than they would in real life.

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