By Madison Jones
Known as the digital generation, Generation Z has experienced the rise of social media platforms during their short, yet eventful lifetimes. Growing up alongside the development of modern technology, the Gen Z population relies on social media for entertainment purposes, social connection and validation in the forms of likes, comments and follows. Social media has played a major role in the fundamental development of Gen Z in terms of their approach to daily life. Social media has provided a platform for self-expression, connectivity and social activism; however, an excessive amount of social media usage has been linked to increased risk for depression, anxiety and loneliness. Among social media platforms, people tend to share the highlights and ‘picture perfect’ aspects of their lives — inaccurately portraying and invalidating normal life experience. As a result, the pressures surrounding social media have led to unhealthy habits that impact users’ mental health and well-being. However, can the concept of ‘casual’ social media relieve the anxiety and unrealistic expectations forced upon users?
Among my social media platforms, I felt a constant pressure to portray a certain identity and snippet of my life to my online audience. Although it’s not completely unauthentic, it’s challenging to accurately display the highs and lows of life in a digital manner. For a long time, I would seek reassurance and validation based on the received amount of likes and comments on an Instagram post. I would spend countless hours and unnecessary stress crafting the ‘picture perfect’ photo(s); however, this mindset proved to negatively impact my self-esteem for a number of reasons. Oftentimes, I found myself comparing my life experiences to others while pondering how their lives appeared so… perfect on social media.
However, over the last year, the trend of ‘casual instagram’ has inspired people to post more authentic content that’s more representative of their lives. As a result, users have reported feeling less pressured when sharing on social media platforms. In May 2021, Instagram announced that users are now offered the option to hide the number of likes received on any given post. The company decided to provide this feature to users in hopes of “depressurizing people’s experience” on the app. Although this doesn’t completely eliminate all negative feelings, psychological professionals agreed that it may be “a step in the right direction for some people” to avoid overemphasizing forms of social validation. Research shows that people highly invested in external approval and feedback are particularly vulnerable to the powerful effects on mental health and well-being in relation to the social media experience.
Some may argue that ‘casual instagram’ continues to push the narrative of posting an aesthetic that YOU choose to represent your life via social media. After all, is anything really candid on Instagram? This is where the BeReal app comes into play. With the rise of ‘casual’ social media, the new app BeReal has begun to gain popularity among social media users in order to create a ‘filter-free space.’ The social media app itself is simple: BeReal sends a notification every day at different times urging users to capture a photo within two minutes. The BeReal app supports authenticity and encourages users to not “take it too seriously” as the posted photos disappear after 24 hours. As a user, it’s been refreshing to use a social media app to connect with friends, but more in a low-stakes manner. BeReal prides itself on the fact that users cannot curate their feeds with edited images, but instead provide a full picture of what they’re doing in the exact moment. As social media continues to evolve, I hope that casual social media continues to provide a welcoming space for people to share their lives on the internet — improving mental health in connection to social media pressures and expectations.