To my way of thinking, the answer to that question is way too many. The article below lays out some interesting ways of looking at social media, why things are the way they are, and maybe some different ways we should be thinking about it that might help it have less of a negative influence on our mental health.
For example, the “influencers”, and what they are really trying to do, which in many cases is simply to get companies to pay them to talk about products:
Some of these are paid posts from sponsors, where people may get paid a few thousand dollars to talk about anything from a teeth whitening product to a special sort of tea. They usually have special directives from marketing to explain a few talking points about their product. They are puppets telling you that if you had XXXX, your life would be better.
Which has always been true, but the line between a commercial and a random person just talking has been blurred on social media big time. But, these posts generally come from famous, popular people, which everyone wants to be, so they start to copy them.
I believe the vast majority of “showing off” posts are not paid posts, but instead, people emulating the paid posts (of both authentic and inauthentic Influencers). As we all know and lament, there is a dirge of originality in the world, which means at least 90% of human behavior is merely a copy. I’m being generous and saying 10% of the 8 billion people on Earth create something entirely new that is interesting enough to be copied. Everything else is either a copy or an obvious derivation.
So what we typically see on social media in many cases are people showing off because they are being paid in some way to send the message that you, too, could have this fabulous life, if you had XXXX, and a whole bunch of people trying to reach that same level. How do they do that? By becoming popular, of course, and how do they do that? By getting the rest of us to interact with them, so that the various statistics indicate how much “influence” they have.
Remember too that it may not be the photo so much as the description that they copy to try to induce engagement. They may ask, “What is your favorite dessert?” or “If you could be in a jacuzzi in any country in the world, which one would it be?” or “What is your guilty pleasure?” Keep in mind this is a method they copy from other Influencers to get you to respond. The important thing to remember is: they don’t care about your actual response; they only care about a lot of comments.
Because some of the most-followed accounts are the ones that get the paid endorsements, less-followed accounts that aspire to that lifestyle end up copying the style, mood, and contents of their photos. And this is why your feed is full of such vapid, relatively uninspired content. But when you see dozens or hundreds of posts of people living the perfect life (90% of which are copies of paid posts), it will end up having an effect on your psyche.
And this is really where things get sideways. We all want to reach a wider audience, including me. We see people on social media with huge audiences, and naturally want to follow in their footsteps, and is so doing create a negative feedback loop for ourselves, because what we see on influencer and wanna-be influencer accounts is a small sample size of that persons life, or a completely fake account of it, and we compare that to our own reality, and it never matches up.
What we haven’t considered often enough, is that there’s nothing at all real about those lives we see, and try to emulate, on social media. It’s really all just a bunch of BS.
If we can remember that, and realize how fake, and dumb this idea is, then we can maybe begin to use social media to follow actual, authentic people who are good for our mental health. It is a powerful tool, for good and bad. It’s up to us to see through the lies.