First things first, I just want to say: I am not anti-Facebook.
I have nothing against those who do choose to have an account (and it would be a real problem if I did, because that includes virtually all of my friends and family members). There are people who know how to use it right, and anyone who really wants a Facebook account has the right to one. However, I made a personal choice to opt out of Facebook a few years ago, and it has turned out to be a really interesting social experiment.
If you ask people you know why they don't have a Facebook, you'll probably hear a slightly different reason from each person. Many would probably say something about not wanting to get addicted to it. And who could blame them? I've only ever borrowed friends' accounts, but even I know that the never-ending news feed can be a huge distraction. Some people might tell you that they just don't believe in broadcasting personal information to the world in that way, and would rather not have hundreds of pictures and statuses that they posted in their tween and teenage years trailing behind them in the future. But there's another key thing that has repelled me from Facebook, something that lots of teens think about on a daily or weekly basis, and yet they don't always fully realize how it's playing out on social networking sites: body image and self-esteem.
The way I see it, Facebook perpetuates the absolute importance of physical appearance to an unhealthy extent. Think about it: when was the last time you saw a comment on a picture that praised someone for something other than a physicality? Something other than "Wow, you look gorgeous!" or "I love your shirt." Sometimes people are able to slip in a "haha, you're hilarious," when it's a funny post or "wow, so cool that you did that!" when it's a picture of you skydiving or something like that. But for the most part, people are being noticed for their physical appearance more than anything else. And that's no one's fault really; Facebook just isn't structured for comments about your friends' intelligence or passion or determination (all things that are just as worthy of note and admiration as appearance). In and of themselves, these comments aren't harmful at all. But when looks are the only thing being discussed and complimented, it suggests that one's beauty is their most important or valuable attribute -- and that is something that I fundamentally disagree with, and don't wish to support.
With a constant flow of images of everyone else's bodies, it's not unnatural to start comparing your own body to others'. This doesn't happen to everyone, but I know I would be prone to doing so. Body image is a pretty common teenage concern, and I've seen lots of friends compare their bodies to images that come up on their news feed, consciously and subconsciously. When you see another girl looking stunning in her prom dress, you might start to wonder if you looked that good too. If you see a guy shirtless on the beach, it might make you feel worse if your body isn't in shape like his. And then, lo and behold, the dreaded (and beloved) "Like" button. Of course when there's a numeric measurement of how well-liked an image is, it's hard not to compare your own stats to those of your friends. That number shouldn't mean much, but to some of us it really can sometimes. There's no shame in deriving a certain degree of pride or relief from getting lots of "likes" on a picture. Of course we all appreciate positive reinforcement. But I'm not sure I love the idea of one's self-esteem depending on the number of times a little blue button is clicked, especially because, at this point, someone clicking the "Like" button on a picture doesn't even mean that he or she necessarily likes the photo very much.
You see, that's the thing about Facebook -- to me, it seems that there are a lot of false impressions and appearances, just like the sometimes-misleading meaning of a "Like." It rings true within an individual's profile, too. Some people aren't super selective about what they project to the world through their profile, but for others, Facebook is almost some sort of weird alternate universe, where they are only the best parts of themselves, and neglect to acknowledge their flaws. You can't fault them for taking advantage of this opportunity, but being the viewer of one of those seemingly perfect profiles can harm your own views of yourself. If I spent time comparing all of my intricate imperfections that I know so well, to someone else's censored and heavily edited profile, I don't think it would leave me feeling great about myself. Even when you know that there's more to them that what appears on the surface of their Facebook profile -- that they probably do look bad in pictures sometimes (contrary to the fact that they look really good in all the ones they've allowed themselves to be tagged in) and that they probably have some boring nights at home too (despite all the pictures that show them doing fun things with friends) -- it's still pretty easy to forget that when you're scrolling through their profile.
Now, to those skeptics who are coming up with counter arguments about how useful Facebook is, I'm openly admitting that it can make life easier in some ways. There are undeniable downsides to opting out -- it can complicate my social life when so many events are organized over Facebook these days; it can be difficult to stay in touch with friends who live in other parts of the country or world; I can't benefit from group online cram sessions the night before exams; I don't get to post pictures to be seen by my family, friends and all those people I don't actually know very well but Facebook has labeled as a "friend." And yes, that's all a bummer sometimes. There are certainly days when I second-guess my decision to stay off of Facebook. But ultimately, for me, the convenience, efficiency and possible fun of a Facebook account has always been outweighed by the potential negative impact Facebook could have on the way I view myself.
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