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Red Pill: Social Media and the Loss of Individuality

Writer Charlene talks about the prevalence of the herd mentality in social media, its impact on one's individuality and how to ease its detrimental effects.

Red pill or blue pill? 

Take the blue pill and stay comfortable doom-scrolling social media for hours (me included)

Or take the red pill and recognise how social media is killing your individuality.

In our era of digital connectivity, the choice between these two pills from The Matrix takes on a new meaning. Social media, once hailed as the ultimate platform for self-expression, now grapples with the paradox of empowering individuality while fostering herd mentality. 

The Red Pill

Our current reality perfectly fits the description of the term coined by George Orwell, “groupthink,” describing the (group) practice of thinking that discourages creativity or self-responsibility. 

An interesting experiment by the University College of Berkeley provides some things to consider: Researcher Guilbeault and his team created an online game, getting participants to pinpoint their observations in the classic Rorschach inkblots. The results were intriguing: Bigger groups often settled on the same limited choices, such as “crab,” “frog” and “bunny,” even when the tests changed. It shows a general tendency for people to fall in line with the majority when in large groups, resulting in fewer unique perspectives. 

This mirrors most of our experiences on social media: Have you felt FOMO watching friends post fun stories of their life? Hopped onto trends because you saw others doing it? This perfectly represents the negative impacts of groupthink: It’s the ultimate form of peer pressure. Whatever others do, you are compelled to join in, no matter what you think. We feel pressured by expectations of our social environment that our habits and lifestyles are inevitably influenced.

Would your identity fundamentally be you or a product of your social environment? As the lines between the Internet and real-life blur, one’s online identity often functions as a reflection of your true self; others' influence causes a divergence of one’s identity - since your community speaks for you, why speak out for yourself? 

When left unchecked, this herd mentality often encourages the creation of “echo chambers,” exclusive spaces for like-minded members to bounce thoughts off one another to emerge as a stronger, collective voice. 

An example of this would be the negative subset of the body positivity movement, #eatingdisorder, where many individuals who joined for eating disorder awareness are influenced to adopt such behaviours.

As of January 2024, there are millions of such posts. Toxic trends are aplenty, from extremely low-calorie diets to “hacks” on misusing type 2 diabetes medication Ozempic as an off label “miracle” diet drug. The latter has even been promoted by Elon Musk himself, boasting that it “helped him shed 13kg”. Not only does such behaviour potentially promote harmful thoughts, giving rise to negative body image, it may also cause physical harm: Many have overdosed on Ozempic, landing themselves in the hospital for hypoglycemia.

And such trends impact others’ lives, as evident in the months-long global shortage of Ozempic that barred type 2 diabetes patients from accessing life-saving medication.

Admittedly, social media has its own benefits - it started out as an avenue for self-expression, and so it remains. On occasion, the combined force of the "herd" on social media platforms galvanises action for important social causes, including becoming a global platform for humanitarian aid. During natural disasters, social media platforms Twitter and Facebook became lifelines, allowing for knowledge and information to be traded instantaneously in response to the natural disaster. 

The Blue Pill; and how we can consume social media healthily

With that, here are some tips to maintain healthy consumption and break away from the herd mentality that overruns social media:

  1. Curate your content feed mindfully 

Surround yourself with uplifting content.

2. Set boundaries between your online and offline life.  

One empowering way to take back your individuality is to realise that social

media is a stage, not the entire play - what goes on there does not dictate the rest of your life.

3. Be authentic and don’t compare yourself to others.  

Comparison is the thief of happiness; we all have our own road to Rome.

4. Take breaks from social media when you need them.  

Step back from your daily posting schedule and doom-scrolls when you feel burnt out.

Guarding your self-identity is a quest of ultimate importance within the digital realm. So, let’s take the red pill together, navigating the Net with social media savviness. 

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