Let me start by saying how weird this is. I mean, here I am talking shit about social media when odds are, that’s what led you here in the first place. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. But in all seriousness, most of you know how real I get from time to time. And since I am a human, I’m sure you can all relate to the feeling of drowning under the unforgiving and negative world of social media and all of it’s negative, depressing bullshit.
How did I (or we) get here?
It all started when Facebook bought Instagram and the trendy, corporate giant decided to change the algorithm. You know, the Instagram formula that decides to share content based on the number of likes and comments rather than chronological order.
At first it seemed unclear as to why Instagram would do such a crazy, weird ass move. Only now, years later does Instagram and Facebook’s shameful hunger for money seem so blatantly obvious.
At the time, serious, professional Instagram users (lol) went ballistic. Instead of a fair, normal way for followers to see influencer’s content, influencer’s now had to compete with millions of users to be seen by those same followers that subscribed to them. This was horrifying for a number of reasons, but mostly for the influencers that used Instagram as a platform to make money.
Likes, follows and comments help thousands of users monetize the platform. And while this business might have been a joke to a lot of people a few years ago, this mode of monetization has become a real business for some.
If Instagram died tomorrow (R.I.P. Vine), where would these users go and what would they do? The job market is a much more competitive place than it used to be and a lot of us saw Instagram as an opportunity to make money (even if we had to work twice as hard since most of us don’t know what we’re doing).
So what did these users do in response to Instagram’s changes? They cheated. They bought automated services or worse: paid for likes and fake followers. They created comment pods to bolster engagement. They started loop giveaways in an attempt to borrow other influencer’s followers. They get paid to continue advertising those dumb watches that every single girl is wearing (seriously, if I see another travel watch ad, I might just purposely step on a rusty nail and forgo a tetanus shot.) They hustled in ways that cheapened the Instagram experience. And none of them were happy about it.
Instead of genuinely engaging with audiences, influencers now had to leverage their users’ engagement just to survive. After all, what were we to do? So many of us had spent months, even years building our digital empire on this amazing, yet unpredictable platform. If we complained enough to Instagram and continued to work around the algorithm, we would get through it! We weren’t going to give up without a fight!
Yet two years later, us bloggers are still doing the same thing. Whoring ourselves out for likes. Plastering “candid” photos in an attempt to “get real”. And faking what used to be the most real way to connect.
And I was starting to go crazy.
Like many of the business owners mentioned, I too started investing myself and my website on Instagram. I saw thousands of users doing what I thought at the time seemed very easy and making thousands of dollars doing it.
As a millennial who was unhappy with her job and wanted something more, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.
After working the damn thing for a couple of years, I felt like I had finally figured out the formula for success. But as time passed, I saw minimal growth, minimal interaction, minimal income.
“Not me,” I thought early on in the game. “I’m gonna be the one who gets to the top. Who reaches her goals even if it kills me.”
The universe must have heard my dare because it was around that time that Trump was elected President of the United States.
I’m not about to get all political with you, that’s not what this blog is about and I hate polarizing people in such a cheap and stupid way. But all of you out there can agree with me when I say that our world is a sad, depressing and frightening place.
Fake news, terrorist attacks, global warming and a rampage of haters have scoured the world. Hurricanes, sex trading, civil wars and a lack of human rights seem to be raining down upon us all. It’s enough to make anyone sick.
Somewhere between the comment pods and the Harvey Weinstein scandal, I started to lose my shit. I was being bombarded on just about every level. Sexual predators. Natural disasters. Racist and sexist hate crimes. “Fitspo” models. It felt as though every single post was reaching through my cracked iPhone screen, grabbing me by the throat and suffocating me. Each of them reminding me that this world is a horrible, scary and unfair place. Thoughts like, “What was I doing all of this for?” “Why the fuck was I working so hard?” and “Does anyone care about anyone at all?” started to become daily thoughts from sunrise to sunset.
And all while this was going on, my Instagram engagement was plummeting. Earning a living, or even making a name for myself, was becoming farther away. The idea that I could succeed was becoming a distant star.
I was getting desperate. Maybe not “take-naked-pictures-in-a-changing-room-and-post-it-online” desperate. But whatever my version of desperate was. At first I felt desperate for the money. I wanted some money to pay my bills, to eat and to live! (That might sound dramatic, but “complimentary lip gloss in exchange for an Instagram post” doesn’t pay the bills.)
I was also desperate to keep up appearances. I had invested so much time and money (that belonged to both my family and myself). I couldn’t let them down. I couldn’t let them see that they had flushed their money and endless support down the drain.
And finally, I was desperate to confirm my biggest fear wasn’t true: that maybe no one likes me after all. “Am I not interesting enough? Beautiful enough? Am I just some basic bitch that thinks she’s special?”
That desperation led me to spend hours a day editing, liking and engaging, though my efforts were empty and had lost all meaning. After tips from an influencer friend of mine, I learned that to gain followers or create any semblance of a fan base, I needed to put a minimum of 5 hours a day into working Instagram. Gone were the days of being a freelance writer in the big city with a side blog. My days had now been replaced with obsessively engaging on Instagram, following every travel account I could find, and micro-blogging on my captions instead of my actual blog.
Yes, it’s pathetic. Yes, I’m one of those girls who let social media define her. It’s embarrassing as hell, I admit. But when you’ve bet everything on yourself only to find yourself failing at it with everyone else passing you by, it’s enough to make your self-esteem crumble.
And crumble it did.
This was the job that I had chosen to pursue and I was failing at it. I started to feel worthless, exasperated and started questioning everything. The social media depression that everyone was talking about had started kicking in. And I couldn’t cope with it.
“Why is everyone else succeeding but me? God, Sebrin, what a pity party you’re throwing for yourself. You should feel so lucky. How could you possibly feel this way when there are so many people who want to travel like you. You are ungrateful, unsuccessful and lazy.”
My inner voice wasn’t even letting me have a moment to process. I would think bad thoughts, then think how bad those thoughts were and beat up on myself for those bad thoughts. It was an utter shame spiral, my own personal hell in my head.
It’s probably no surprise that real depression started kicking. It’s something I’ve dealt with before, but nothing like this. I couldn’t get out of bed for days. I would cry for hours. And soon, I wasn’t putting in any of the work into my blog that I had been so excited about one year earlier.
Despite the fact that I knew where the pain was coming from, I couldn’t put my Instagram down.
In my mind, I was “doing my job” seeing what my competitors were doing and how I, too, could reach success. I kept scrolling and comparing. Liking and comparing. Commenting and comparing. I didn’t see that all I was really doing was pushing myself further into isolation and despair. And all while feeling like my dreams of being a successful entrepreneur traveling the world would never come true.
Alongside Hollywood’s sex offenders and California’s bizarre heat wave (another incessant reminder that the world was falling apart), Thanksgiving was approaching. But it wasn’t just any normal holiday filled with stretchy pants and awkward family encounters. My grandmother had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and we were planning on taking care of her during her remaining days. In addition to this, my graduating high school class had planned a makeshift reunion the day after Thanksgiving in my hometown’s trashy, country bar down the street from my parents’ house. Had I been confident, strong and even mildly successful, I would have stormed into the incredibly off-kilter dive bar like Romy and Michele and slapped the smug looks off of my peers’ faces. Or maybe even just have a good time reminiscing better, simpler days.
But much like the cat hair in my apartment that just won’t go away, depression was lingering and ready to make me feel hopeless. “You’re a failure Sebrin,” the depression monster said. “You failed in high school making friends and you’re failing now. If you think anyone would want to hang out with you, you’re sadly mistaken.”
There seemed like no better time to take an Instagram break. And for 1 week, I refrained from posting (much to the chagrin of some of my business obligations).
I wish I could tell you that my social break made me come back refreshed and ready to crush it. I wish I could tell you how I was able to return a new woman. I really, really wish I could tell you I came back fixed and happy.
But social media is complex. The very tool that connects all of us brings us all too much information at once. We have invited constant news and information into every minute of our lives and with it, constant advertising, comparison and the ability for others to make us feel like what we have and what we are is not enough.
I’m sure you’re wondering what my point is. Am I giving up social media? Did I learn anything from all of this? Some of you might think social media is pure bullshit and what the hell am I getting myself so worked up about anyway?
I feel like it might be too soon to say. I know my break helped remind me who I am. It reminded me that writing is mine. Writing clears my frustrations and fills my heart with purpose. I had been mistaking others’ goals for my own and I forgot what my own path was and always was supposed to be: to connect with others in a way that reached into the bottom of their souls. I want to connect with every single one of you in a way that makes you feel like I have at least touched some part of your heart and that we are all connected as one. And for me, I believe writing is what builds that connection.
Yet I still feel like that same girl who was broken only a month earlier.
My normal Instagram routine continued as usual, except that my absence cost me 100 followers (cue Ingrid Goes West freak out). At this point I realized that these users didn’t actually care about anything I do. They were using me for their own reciprocity game. Like my old knee-jerk reaction, I started to sink back into the “fuck this” mode and cursed Instagram.
So yeah, I still have some growing to do. But what I do know is that I’m gonna be more real with all of you. I’m gonna curse a hell of a lot more. I’m not gonna be so fake in the pictures I post. I’m also planning on sharing a lot more of myself through my writing.
But when I’m not being a freakish cat lady, I’m also a human being. It might take a while for me to learn to love the real me in front of thousands of people. I might not do all of this at the pace I would like. But I think a lot of you out there like me for me anyway. Or else you wouldn’t have probably read this far into my rant.
(And you know what? I take back what I said about those damn watches on Instagram. A girl’s gotta eat, amiright?)
To my loyal followers out there: please note that I am eternally grateful for your support. There are some of you who have been nothing but positive cheerleaders, supporting every novel of a caption I write. The darkness I experienced is not describing you or my connection with you in any way. More than anything, I’m describing my experience with the platform as a whole and the type of environment that we have created.