Article by: Aparna Mohan

Photographs by: Ashley Miller

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An increasing number of studies into the relationship between social media and narcissism confirm what many already suspect: as writer Kellie Elmore believes, “social media has infected the world with a sickening virus called vanity.”

It is important to understand that vanity is more like narcissism than like self-esteem. While self-esteem “represents an attitude built on

 accomplishments we’ve mastered, values we’ve adhered to, and care we’ve shown towards others,” narcissism is “often based on a fear of failure or weakness, a focus on one’s self,” and is not reflective of one’s true accomplishments. (Lisa Firestone, Huffington Post)

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A study by Larry Rosen at California State University, presented at the annual American Psychological Association convention, reveals a strong, positive correlation between excessive time spent on Facebook and narcissistic tendencies in teens. According to the study, teens who obsessively use social media are more likely to be vain, aggressive, anti-social, and poor academic performers.

 It is important we acknowledge the ugly side of social media. While social networking sites give us the power to present ourselves as we desire, most of utilize this power “to look important, look special and gain attention,” thus presenting unrealistic portraits of ourselves”. (Lisa Firestone, Huffington Post) Social media also obscures for us the difference between the “meaningful relationships we foster in the real world, and the numerous casual relationships” found on sites like Facebook, adding to the unrealism of our virtual worlds and virtual selves. (Steven Strogatz, Cornell University) Hiding behind a false, glorified image of ourselves, it is no wonder we are much more confident online than in real life.

The problem with this sort of confidence is that it is groundless and can lead to self-loathing offline. But social media seems much too essential in the 21st century to abandon altogether. So what can we do about it? “The solution to fostering a less narcissistic generation,” says Lisa Firestone, renowned clinical psychologist, “is to instill a healthy sense of true self esteem offline before anyone is old enough to post their first status update.” Wise words. What will you do about it?

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