Illusions and Lies on the Internet Pervasive, Threatening Mental Health

Many (though certainly not all) adults have come to realize that much of the imagery on the internet is an illusion, doctored by software designed to wipe out imperfections and unrealistically enhance whatever the poster wants us to see.  But that does not mean that the awareness switch is always turned “on” and that adults are always consciously aware that their brains are intentionally being tricked.  And it certainly is not the case for teenagers and children.

It is no secret that many Instagrammers limit their photo sharing to only the most highly curated images. The result is a feed full of posts that bear little resemblance to the messy reality of everyday life. Only the most stunning vistas, the most pleasingly arranged dinner plates, and the most flattering selfies are shared. (source)

The threat to mental health

And herein lies the problem:  The pervasive level of ‘shopped and filtered images on social media alter reality, running the risk that viewers who compare their own realities to that of the manipulated photos may begin to experience a sense of self-doubt, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, body image disorders, and a host of other mental health problems.

A widespread problem

The #nofilter lie is frequently an attempt to convince followers that your physical appearance is both perfect and completely natural.

If you think the problem is not that bad consider this:  A recent study uncovered some 30 million phony #nofilter pics on Instagram.  That’s right…millions of manipulated photos in which the poster of said photos actually attached the hashtag “nofilter” to signify that the photo was genuine, authentic and untouched/not manipulated.  In short, the research revealed that the #nofilter claim is frequently a lie.

On top of being carefully staged and selected, around 18 percent of these photos are filtered before they are posted. When it comes to selfies, that number is even higher—approximately 25 percent are filtered. (source)

The #nofilter lie contributes to a social media climate where the line between real lives and phoniness continues to blur

From a social relations standpoint, we all suffer from the illusions and manipulations of images on the internet. Years ago the concern among professionals and the public alike was New York advertising firms creating false impressions of everyday life to sell products on television, billboards and magazines.  Now the same public engineering is being done in order to garner likes and re-posts (the currency of the internet) as well as increased traffic flow and clicks (for economic currency).

But mental health professionals warn there is a significant price to this intentional distortion of reality on both sides of the fence.  For the viewer it is a constant barrage of unrealistic images with which to compare oneself to (and in which to fail that comparison).  And for the poster, it is starting a habit of making disingenuous, fake and deceptive ways of being in the world part of their personal reality–something which down the road will undoubtedly lead to problems in the workplace and interpersonal relationships.

(Also see: You might think that posting a filtered, edited, glamour-shot version of yourself will boost your self-esteem, but research suggests otherwise. source)


The solution

Professionals advise anyone experiencing negative emotions from the constant onslaught of manipulated photos to take a break from the internet.  Talk with trusted friends and family members (who do not engage in illusion-creating postings on social media) about the challenges and frustrations connected to this manipulated reality.  When you return to the internet, limit the time spent on social media sites which already have a history of fake and doctored realities and consciously remind yourself that many images on the internet have been intentionally altered in some way.  If none of these strategies work, seek out a mental health professional with experience dealing with the problems associated with the internet.

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