With an average of one million selfies uploaded online daily, we are seeing a worrying trend of attention-seeking individuals lusting for recognition from peers or netizens alike. However, though this has been an ongoing phenomena for the past few years, is participation in the social-media necessarily solely for narcissistic purposes, or put simply, a platform to flaunt themselves and gain worldwide attention and validation? While participation in social media is for communication at large, social media has been structured in a way that it results in inevitable narcissism. However, we cannot neglect that there are bigger motivations that govern our online actions which are not narcissistic. Furthermore, the online culture has been modified to one that is less friendly towards narcissistic activities where users express disapproval towards narcissistic actions directly. Lastly, social media has provided us with a plethora of various purposes, which mostly cater to our non-narcissistic needs.
Some contenders argue that the structure of social media outlets has resulted in inevitable narcissism where it has evolved into one which greatly emphasizes the need for “likes”, “retweets” and “upvotes”. With the insurgence of numerous social advocates, a netizen who wants to successfully promote his cause has to garner attention and win approval from others, with online petitions as a prime example. As such, these netizens engage in elaborate methods to mold an immaculate profile to the online audience, in a bid to attract attention and obtain more support for their causes. Hence, narcissism is unavoidable in such social-media activities, no matter how noble the cause is.
While it is true that there might be a tinge of narcissism in their online actions, we cannot dismiss the other main motivations that govern our online activities. The main reason why people engage in such activities online is to reach out to a larger group of audience to promote a cause and not solely to seek affirmation. Getting affirmation is a need in order to accumulate rapport and progress further in their cause and any narcissistic action is a necessary evil as it is a prerequisite to garner attention to further one’s main intent. For example, when Human Rights Campaign faced lackluster response from the online community when trying to spread awareness on marriage inequality, they had to resort to excessive self-promotion tactics by regularly updating their campaign content on social media and openly appealing to the audience. This has been necessary to draw worldwide attention to their program and this has been proven successful with the spike to two million unique visitors. Nevertheless, these seemingly narcissistic actions are still ultimately a necessary criterion in order to spread awareness and showcase concerns. Therefore, though there might be a tinge of narcissistic behavior in all online actions, we cannot neglect the other bigger motivations that govern our online activities. Thus, it is unfair to assert that participation in social media is solely narcissistic as other motivations typically overlook such activities in the bigger picture.
Secondly, the online culture has also been modified to one that is less friendly towards narcissistic activities. Society is now less tolerant towards those who openly flaunt their wealth, status and looks, and with greater freedom of speech online, it is unsurprising that there is now a more toxic online environment which lambasts such self-centered people. This has largely deterred excessive narcissistic activities, and it also allows netizens to realise the importance of inner beauty and values which one uphold, transcending the superficial culture of narcissism to a deeper one that holds more truth to one’s beliefs. For example, celebrities such as the Instagram fashion model Essena-O'Neill was widely criticised to be “self-absorbed”, and using social media for “purely likes, approval and validation”. This backlash made her realise the unhealthy perception of beauty she is propagating to impressionable teenagers, thus quitting her online celebrity life and starting to post pictures exposing the harsh reality behind the instafamous culture. Therefore, this highlights the increasing intolerance towards such narcissism and how the current online culture has influenced the participation in social media to be one that is more than just shallow narcissism, but one which embraces key intrinsic values of a higher moral standard. Thus, participation in social media is no longer simply narcissistic due to the changing times and online environment.
Lastly, social media has provided us with a variety of functions that can be used for many other purposes other than narcissism. Some people think that social media is only for self-expression but though there might be truth in this, we cannot neglect the other purposes and functions of social media. Now, social media has provided an array of functions and can serve various purposes ranging from crisis prevention measures to expanding social circles. This appears relevant and appealing to different strata in society where they can use social media to cater to their respective needs. Instead of being a sole outlet to post immaculate selfies in a desperate selfish attempt to fish for recognition, it can now be used for crisis prevention measures. For example, during the 15 April 2013 Boston-Marathon bombings, worldwide social-media platforms such as Twitter which proved to be a safety tool, were used to relay the news as quickly as possible, saving countless of lives for people in the area by speeding up rescue efforts. This shows that social networks can pose as an important tool in such emergencies, detracting from the belief that every online footprint we leave behind is related to narcissism. Therefore, with the increasing ways social media can be used to suit one’s needs, participation in social media is not just for narcissistic purposes.
In conclusion, we must remember that purely narcissistic behaviors to attract viewership and garner online fame are still present, such as internet sensations XiaXue and The Kardashians, just to name a few. Apart from these solely self-centered actions, most of our social-media participation hinges upon a greater and more noble cause, with narcissism merely playing a small supportive role. With the changing mindset of online users and the revolutionization of social media, we begin to deviate from superficial selfies to more purposeful pursuits.