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The falsebook

Two out of 37 – that’s the number of selfies that usually make it past my friend’s brutal selection process and get uploaded. She jokingly calls the process ‘finding her angle’ but there’s no denying the truth: what is seen online does not necessarily reflect what is real.

The practice isn’t exactly new. While Lonelygirl15 of YouTube may be one of the earliest/most famous examples of an elaborate lie on social media, we have always been wary of letting other people see the ‘real’ us. We present our best foot forward in our CVs and on interviews; we sweep the floor and wipe the counters when we know someone is dropping by our house; and even the #nofilterphotos that we boast of have been cropped to our minute specifications.

Nevertheless, even if we know that we shouldn’t believe what we see on our friends’ profile page(a survey has revealed that as many as 2 out of 3 people lie on social media) how we feel is a different matter. Multiple studies have confirmed that the dissonance between our online and offline livesmakes us more vulnerable to depression, loneliness, and low self-worth.

In 2013, scientists from German universities concluded that at least one out of three people would feel worse after checking what their friends put on their online accounts. Perhaps it’s because we unrealistically expect social media to be a digital chronicle (and should therefore be accurate); or perhaps, we just feel pressured to present a better version of our lives online because we’re constantly flooded with vacation photo albums, pinterest-perfect homes, and the idyllic lives of our friends. Without realizing how and not bothering to analyze why, we have come to expect celebrity-level lifestyles. Anything less is a letdown.

To be fair, not all lies on social media is a bad thing. Providing inaccurate personal information, for example, can be a security measure designed to protect our identities. Using a nickname, fibbing about your birthdate, and hiding the names of your parents are all sensible – sometimes even necessary – protective measures. Actively trying to throw off advertisers and other interested parties may also be a shrewd move.

Parodies and pranks can also be purposeful fallacies that may even be considered constructive. Take for example NPR’s brilliant April Fool’s Day prank. They posted an article titled “Does Anyone Read Anymore?”, which, unsurprisingly, was commented on and shared by an embarrassingly large number of people defending their own reading habits or proselytizing about America’s intellectual downfall, not knowing that the article was a prank and it only linked to a page containing the message, “Congratulations, genuine readers, and happy April Fools’ Day!”

Still, other untruths are products of ignorance and naiveté, not duplicity. Celebrity deaths and whatever Facebook hoax is circulating this week are common occurrences. The people who share them aren’t trying to deceive people; they are themselves victims of incautiousness.

On the other side of the spectrum, you can find the fabrications geared to deceive. Of the criminal variety are your scams – usually deals and falsities too good to be true but still manages to ensnare unsuspecting individuals. Falling on Team Pathetic are the photoshopped pictures meant to mislead others. Really, sweetheart – when the door behind you begins to warp and bend, you’re not fooling anyone with those ‘real curves’ you’re showing off.

The most pervasive lie on social media, however, is one that we all unwittingly perpetuate.

Markham Heid, writing for Men’s Health, remarked, “Call it the unwritten rule of Facebook: People don’t post pictures about the parts of their lives that suck.” We are all complicit on this – we post hundreds of photos of our trip to the beach, but not of our small, messy desk at work. We flaunt the half-second snapshot of our child when he looks cute, but not the hours of tantrum and restlessness.

And who could blame us? It is only natural to want to present your best image to the public. Facebook is social – and as we’ve done all our lives when there are other people around, we promote an image that showcases our positive aspects and associations  while toning down undesirable traits

The problem is that this practice of carefully controlling our online identities perpetuate the cycle of lies. When you’re sitting at home eating instant noodles and you see your Facebook contacts enjoying the trendiest restaurants, the reaction is visceral – you end up hating the daily drudgery of your life. As the Steve Furtick quote goes, “the reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”

So we frame our stories into a ‘hero narrative’ – where everything that happens to us is worthy of a ballad and we battle substantial adversity, even if they were just going to the office. Hence, the concerts and shows we go to are all ‘epic’ and our assignments in the office come from ‘the boss from hell’. In our quest to add color to our lives, we end up with a forgery, instead of a self-portrait.

And it won’t end. We lie about how interesting our lives are in order to keep up with the lies of how interesting the lives of others are. In the process, not only do we make ourselves miserable, we end up devaluing what actually happens in our lives. We go to the mountains to take a selfie, add a profound quote we don’t understand, and upload the photo instead of just enjoying the experience. In this race with no payoff, we all lose.

Reminding ourselves that we don’t fully see what’s happening in the lives of our friends – we see the shiny new car, but not the sleepless nights worrying about payments and the raised voices with the spouse whenever the budget is discussed – is just the first thing. The real trick is in becoming genuinely content with who we are and what we have in our lives. Buddhists call it being Zen; the Christians point to building your house in the solid rock that is Jesus. Everything else (our status, our relationships, even our own skills and talents), they say, is shifting sands.

But that’s not easy, and lying is far easier – until you get to the point when you don’t recognize the person in your selfies anymore.