Social media influencers have a responsibility to post genuine, unedited images of themselves for the sake of all users’ mental health, according to clinical psychologists.
The two experts have given their comments in response to a study on how social media and the use of filtered photos on it affects users’ perceptions of their, and others’, lifestyles.
It found that just over half (51%) of all social media users over the age of 16 compare themselves and their lifestyles to others on one channel or another. An enormous 82% of 16 to 24-year-olds do this, making them by far the most susceptible age group.
More women than men compare themselves to celebrities (44% vs 31%), but more men than women compare themselves to colleagues (35% vs 29%).
However, people comparing themselves to friends and peers is still far more common, with 78% of adult social media users doing it. Two in five compare themselves to strangers.
The effect is clear. One in 10 people would never upload a picture of themselves without filtering or editing it first. Fewer than half (43%) would feel fine about finding a merely unfiltered photo of them on social media, which they couldn’t delete.
Shockingly, 11% of adults on social media use FaceTune on photos of themselves – the notorious airbrushing app popular with celebrities, which not only retouches skin flaws but can also slim waists, smooth wrinkles and even alter body proportions.
Despite the reputation of Instagram as having a leading effect, due to including only images with little context, it takes second place to Facebook for the platform on which most of the comparison occurs on average (64% vs 70%).
However, according to NHS clinical psychologist Dr Kelly Price, images are most responsible for the negative effects of social media on mental health. She said:
“The use of photographs on social media creates an environment where individuals determine our social and personal worth. It’s argued that body or lifestyle comparisons with peers may, as a result, provide a standard toward which to strive.
“Quantifiable feedback, such as ‘likes’ and comments on photos, is likely to focus this attention on physical appearance. Individuals’ awareness of this power means, to present the best versions of ourselves, we are more inclined to enhance or edit images.
“This means that all users, and particularly influencers, have a responsibility to others on social media to post real, unedited images of themselves.”
Dr Hayley Higson, also a clinical psychologist for the NHS, added:
“Social media provides unlimited opportunities for people to compare themselves to others. Social comparison is believed to be a natural form of human behaviour and functions via a hierarchical model.
“While this can be viewed as a source of motivation and inspiration, it is more often associated with the development of negative self-perceptions, feelings of inadequacy, inferiority and low mood.
“The sheer volume of social media sites means that people can be exposed to these unhelpful comparisons in abundance, 24 hours a day.”
Using the results of the study, a tool called How Filtered Is Your Life? has been created. It allows people to see how their attitudes to edited images on social media fit with others of their region, age range or gender, as well as across the entire country.