College; A time to gain knowledge, to explore new identities, to learn to be independent…and party! Come one, don’t act like partying isn’t at the top of most students’ weekend ‘to-do lists.’ The weekend rolls around and all everyone’s thinking about is how much they want to leave the past week of work behind them while they go out and let loose. What’s even more important is documenting that night to make sure that every one of your social media followers knows you went to a party, because let’s face it, if you’re entire album is filled with blurry pictures, red cups, and your hands in the air, then having as much fun as everyone else.
But, how much of this is actually real, actually fun? The article Social Media is Getting Young People Drunk, by Meghan Neal, explains how teenagers and young adults feel the need to look like their life is awesome through their online activity just because everyone else does, even if it’s all a charade. She characterizes this phenomenon as FOMO, the fear of missing out, and describes how, even if you know your friends are intentionally posing and posting those pictures to create a certain “party-esque” image, you cant help but wish that was you.
“People tend to get addicted to social networking and then depressed. And if you’re a young, impressionable teenager, it could pressure you into making sure you, too, are happily intoxicated the next time someone snaps a group shot…Social media photos of people drinking and smoking can influence teens into partaking in the same degenerate behavior.”
The study described in Neal’s article, which focused mostly on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, found that about 1/5 of US teenagers are constantly viewing pictures of their peers drinking, smoking, and partying in a positive light, making the viewers feel as though they should be doing the same. More exposure to these activities directly correlates with a spike in alcohol usage in young adults.
FOMO has become such a major phenomenon among this age group because social networking sites, which have become online communities for people with similar characteristics and interests, stand as constant reminders of the social norms for it’s specific group. Nancy Baym explains that online communities are spaces where people share similar identities and practices. In this particular case, the young adults, most specifically in college, share the idea that they are of the age where they should be constantly partying, living life by getting drunk. Thus, they party then post “evidence” in the form of photos and text on their social media pages in order to show everyone in their network that they are complying with these rules.
To belong to a specific community is to project a similar identity to the people in your network. Therefore, young adults are putting on act, trying to show their ‘friends’ that they too are having a blast. Zizi Papacharissi would characterize this act as performativity. She states that identity is essentially a performance “displaying the act of doing” and it’s the “stylized repetition of acts that makes the performances seem natural.” Therefore, these young adults will repeatedly go out, take tons of pictures, and post them online each weekend in order to make it look like ordinary behavior. The intended purpose of these posts actually works because it leads to jealousy and competition among the friends within their networks/communities. Papacharissi would say this is because people feel the need to relate to others through “social routines essential for forming and sustaining connection between communities” (p.4) In other words, the college scene Facebook community becomes a place where students begin to identify themselves as “party-goers” because that’s what everyone else is doing, it’s become the norm for young adults.
But once again, how much of these Facebook photos are authentic? Claudia Mitchell and Sandra Weber believe that people are constantly “constructing” their images to mold them into their desired identity. Constructedness is “the manner of playful yet more or less deliberate creative ‘assembling” of images, tweets, posts, etc. This allows identity to become a work-in-progress, something that can be changed to fit the norms of society, and in this case, to seem like a partier even if you’re not. According to Hugo Liu, these performances of taste and behavior are considered to be “theatrical,” over the top, artificial, and posed to make it look like you’re having a better time then you are. I don’t mean to say that the subjects in this network aren’t having fun at all, their night could have been great. However, good, posed, pictures always make everything look better than reality.
I believe this article to be extremely accurate because when I look at my own Facebook, Instagram and Twitter networks, the majority of the posts I see are so college. It’s true because even without the addiction to social media, people feel the pressure to fit into societal norms. However, it’s important to think about who the poster’s audience actually is. The article briefly mentions how the appeal of alcohol and parties has greater affects on those whose real life friends don’t party often. I believe it’s worth mentioning that a majority of Facebook users post these types of elicit photos to project a certain image to what Caroline Haythornthwaite would call, “weak ties” or offline acquaintances since “strong ties” (real-life friends) are probably in the photo with you. This doesn’t change the main message of the article, but a greater expansion on this point allows the reader to understand that in this case, online identities are crafted for followers/’friends’ the users don’t particularly associate with on a day-to-day basis in the offline world.
Nevertheless, to be apart of a community, you must partake in the shared identity of that community. Neal sums up the article perfectly when she states,
“The rise of social media is effectively super-sizing peer pressure. While old-school pressure conjures up images of the class rebel offering you a cigarette under the bleachers, a quick scroll through your Facebook news feed is like being at 20 tempting parties at once. And while TV and movies have been making partying and sex look cool for years, social networking normalizes the behavior in your own circles. It’s conformity 2.0.”