The psychology of using social media

Ben Zhao, Executive Features Editor

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Between writing college essays, studying for her classes and preparing for leadership roles in clubs, senior Danielle Kates posts updates on her life on the social media platform VSCO. Kates said she never thinks twice about including a public link to her VSCO page, which allows anyone to view posted content, on her social media accounts.

“I know people say that everything [I post] needs to be on ‘lock down’ private, but I don’t see why I can’t share harmless pictures on VSCO,” said Kates. “None of the pictures are inappropriate or incriminating, and I’d like to think they give people a positive idea of who I am.”
Dr. Susan Fielkow, pediatric behavior and development psychologist, said humans, especially teenagers, are naturally inclined to share aspects of their lives with their peers.
“The way our brains are wired [suggests] that we are meant to be social beings, that we relish in sharing our experiences and emotions,” said Fielkow. “Young people are particularly susceptible because they crave acceptance and belonging within their groups.”
The innate desire to share described by Fielkow can have negative outcomes. According to Eileen Tarjan, learning manager at the Network of Executive Women, having public content on social media is risky for college and job applicants. Eileen Tarjan, who is the sister of Michael Tarjan, assistant principal of student activities, currently trains people on how to present themselves in professional situations and spoke at Glenbrook North during the all-school workshop in 2015 about how to maintain a positive “digital footprint.”
“[Applicants] can get their entire [job] application tossed in the trash or even receive dismissal from their positions based on what is on their profiles,” said Eileen Tarjan. “Having too much public content just opens the door for recruiters to dig.”
Despite hearing Eileen Tarjan’s 2015 presentation and knowing about the risks of a public profile, junior Louis Gordon said he still prefers to keep his Instagram account on public.
“I think it’s okay if a stranger looks at my [Instagram] content because it might give them a better look at who I am, and it might give them a reason to approach me,” said Gordon. “I think it’s a great way to invite people to be friendly, sort of like saying, ‘This is what I find cool, and if you find it cool as well, let’s talk about it.’”
According to Fielkow, people’s social needs can have a powerful effect.
“We want to find relationships, promote ourselves, build our social confidence,” said Fielkow. “The satisfaction we gain from making a new connection often outweighs the perceived risk involved with putting yourself out there. The result is that sometimes more risks are taken.”
Kates said that because many of her peers and role models also include links to their VSCO accounts, including it on her own profile did not seem like a problem.
Fielkow said this process of “normalization” causes a person to put trust in the crowd.
“When we see other people around us doing something that we may have doubts about, it makes us question it less,” said Fielkow. “It makes the uncertainties seem less severe.”
When the college application process comes, Gordon said he will still keep his Instagram on public.
“The risks are there, of course,” said Gordon. “Keeping my Instagram public means putting a lot of trust in a ton of strangers, but I still hope that colleges will look at my Instagram. It might give them a better look at who I really am. Seeing a picture of me at a concert or with my friends might convince some colleges that I’m a real person.”

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The psychology of using social media