Is Social Media More Like Reality TV or Reality?

There are still people who think social media is more like reality TV than reality. Usually these are people with an aversion to social media, are unplugged or out of touch and don’t understand how it works. They are not “in” the digital culture, and that’s why they don’t understand it.

So I’m always a little surprised when someone who relies on social media for a living equates it to reality TV. Yet such was the case in a recent article by Chris Martin who is an “Author Development Specialist at LifeWay Christian Resources” (ya, I don’t know what any of that means either. But it sounds fancy).

Now I don’t want to pick on Chris. He sounds like a really great guy, with really great friends (I came across the article because it was shared by Trevin Wax, whom I appreciate very much), and he works for a great company.

But I do want to address this topic because it does come up from time to time, and as the Christ community it’s important that we cultivate a positive view of social media rather than reinforce a culture where churches and Christian communities fear it.

My job – helping faith communities overcome unnecessary fear of social media and see why it is important for them to be engaged in the digital space – is only hampered by articles that reinforce the caricature that social media is more like reality television, than reality.

In his article Social Media, Reality TV, and Our Selective Sharing Problem, Chris argues three main points worth talking about.

1. Social media is real life reality TV.

Like a reality TV show producer, posting content to social media lets us decide what our “reality” looks like to those who see us.

2. “Selective sharing” maintains a façade of happiness.

Maintaining a façade of happiness in face-to-face interactions is much more difficult than maintaining that same façade online.

3. To be real we have to share our sorrows as much as our victories.

If we want social media to accurately reflect who we are and what we’re about, we have to try to be more intentional about sharing our sorrows as much as our victories.

With all his right intentions, I think Chris’ article get’s it backwards. Here are three reasons why social media is more like real life than reality television.

3 Reason Social Media is More Like Real Life

1. Social media tends to amplify people’s true selves.

The fact is, social media tends to amplify people’s true personalities. People can only “hide behind a façade” for so long on social media. It might have been true 10 or 15 years ago when people were using pseudonyms a lot more, but not today.

If you have low self-esteem, social media will amplify that. If you’re a narcissist, social media will amplify that. If you have anxiety issues, social media will amplify that.

In fact, research has found that “the types of actions users take and the kinds of information they are adding to their Facebook walls and profiles are a refection of their identities.” (Here)

2. People do share their struggles and grief.

Chris thinks that to be real we have to be intentional about sharing our sorrows online.

Again, the fact is people DO share their sorrows quite often, and when they do their community rallies around them for support.

Recently Facebook added a series of “Reaction” buttons to supplement the traditional Like button. Facebook was very intentional about the options they’d make available for those Reactions. After more than a year of research Zuckerberg added the Reaction buttons because people needed a more nuanced way of engaging with content.

It’s no surprise that a “Sad” Reaction was added to the small selection of options. Facebook recognized that people wanted to grieve with these who were grieving. And the Sad Reaction button met that need.

3. People are always different in public (and wisely so).

But thankfully there’s a difference between sharing ones occasional grief, and airing ones daily dirty laundry online. A distinction the article doesn’t make.

Frankly, I’m glad that people don’t share their sorrows as much as their victories. That’s not healthy for society and it’s not healthy for individuals. There’s a time and place for everything, and Facebook is not the place or time to air your dirty laundry.

Chris says that by acting different face-to-face than we do on Facebook, we’re “maintaining a façade of happiness.” Nonsense.

The truth is this is another example of where Facebook is just like real life. People have always acted different at home and among their closest friends than we do in public. We also tend to share our most trying times, difficult moments, daily struggles and even personal victories with trusted friends and people we can confide in.

We don’t do it in real life (which is wise, btw), so why do it on Facebook?

What Chris calls a “façade of happiness” most good leaders call “wisdom.”

Conclusion.

The truth is, social media is no more like “reality TV” than, say, going to any social gathering. We all operate one way in public and leave a more personal side at home (thank heaven!). That’s not being fake or unreal. It’s called wisdom.

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