How We Make Ourselves Feel Bad by Viewing Others’ “Fake” Lives (Church and Thambusamy)

The study by Church and Thambusamy (2018) examined the relationship between ‘personal information deception’ and online social network use. They explore some reasons and theories as to why people would be inclined to falsify or misrepresent themselves on social media. The biggest finding of the study is that online competition is fostered by the potential to gain status. This competitive need to gain status is what causes people to use deception on their social media profiles. While this study focused on Facebook, Instagram is a more recent platform where people have taken to use deception in order to create a version of themselves that is unlike reality.

When you scroll through Instagram, most of the posts are of positive events that create an illusion of what the person’s life looks like. Vacations that people took, an event they went to, a night out with friends. What you don’t see is everything that is behind that. You don’t see what people are struggling with, or what has been difficult for them, you don’t see any blemishes or that their teeth aren’t as white as they appear in their photo. Social media platforms are carefully curated to only showcase the positive, and sometimes embellished, events in people’s lives. This is especially problematic because as a person scrolling through an Instagram feed, everyone seems to be doing so well and have no problems, except you. It can be a very isolating feeling. What Church and Thambusamy (2018) did that was interesting, was find a reason for this. They explain that online deception stems from a need to compete with others and gain social status. Gaining social status, in an age where social media is so widespread and easily accessible, often means having the best Instagram profile and the nicest photos.

@kristenunrau5762 brings up a great point in saying that “PID by complete strangers can have a huge influence on the self-worth and confidence of those who view it. Comparison to online influencers can leave individuals feeling badly about themselves, when what they are comparing themselves to isn’t even real”. Often times, people are viewing profiles of people they have never met, people who are paid to keep up an impressive profile and who have teams of people working for them to help them do this. These people are obviously not a fair comparison to make for ourselves and yet, we still do it.

This idea has been a theme throughout the course, the idea that a motive for competition is to gain social status and prestige. Hutcheon (2003) talks about this in the context of academia, where competition is becoming more pervasive and where an oppositional mode of thought is becoming more common. Academics compete for scholarships, grants, positions, all things which will raise their social status. It is not clear whether this competition for prestige began in the ‘ivory tower’ of academia and permeated into mainstream culture or vice versa, but this behaviour and mindset now exists everywhere.

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  1. Hello, this was a very insightful read. You provided a really thoughtful analysis of the study, and I like how you connected it to our daily lives and demonstrated how it can have a significant impact on how we view ourselves.
    From what I understand, a lot of what Church et al. state is that an individual would feel pressure to distort personal information online to gain status. Do you think personality has an influence on the extent to which an individual feels pressure to distort personal information online?


  2. Hi, thanks for your comment! This is a very interesting question, I personally think that personality probably does have an effect on the tendency for people to distort online information. I would predict that those with lower self-esteem or lower in personality-consistency (meaning that they behave differently in different contexts) would probably be more likely to be dishonest in their online representations of themselves. Probably because being dishonest in your online representation is an easy way to make yourself seem better without doing any actual work on yourself.


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