Et isn’t easy being a teenager in the age of social media. Parents are often skeptical or even completely incomprehensible about the currently popular platforms. For many young people, their own digital identity work takes place against the background of a society fearful of the media. It also doesn’t help to know that historically new technologies have almost always encountered resistance, from the panic of an alleged reading addiction in the early 19th century to the fear of television addiction to the fear of Snapchat Dysmorphia.
However, anecdotes about the risks of social media have also been part of its success from the start. Facebook parties that got out of hand, self-esteem destroyed by Instagram, the dangers of sexting or job interviews ruined by false tweets – the range of scary stories about exactly the places where young people like to be on the Internet is extensive.
Transience in trend
Perhaps this is why they are particularly attracted to platforms on which potentially unpleasant or harmful content is not stored for long, i.e. where the transience of one’s own status messages is a central element. In recent years, Snapchat has become particularly popular with teenagers, because messages sent there disappear immediately after viewing them and even the longer story posts only remain visible for 24 hours. Communication on Snapchat leaves few traces, and when someone takes a screen capture of a sent Snap, users are notified. This principle of ephemeral posts became so popular with Snapchat that so-called “ephemeral content” became a marketing trend and both Instagram and Facebook quickly followed suit with the story format, which also allows for posts that disappear after a certain period of time.
Ephemeral content supposedly encourages greater authenticity and closeness because it requires less staging than posts that are permanently visible. Unlike Snapchat, however, Instagram and Facebook do not notify when screenshots are taken. How ephemeral the stories really are remains uncertain.
images of decay
The relationship between authenticity and staging, between private and public, creates a tension that should be well known to most people with social media profiles. At one end of the spectrum is the influencer aesthetic, which is now increasingly out of fashion, which allows perfectly staged life to coagulate into a brand. At the other end is a social media trend towards depicted ugliness, which has been becoming more and more common for a while, especially on Instagram can be found.
This trend has intensified since the start of the pandemic and lockdowns, as many people have been reduced to their local communities and homes, and these places are not necessarily conducive to spectacular social media posts. But the new ugliness trend goes beyond that. Instead of nicely presented meals, staged interiors or heavily filtered landscapes, images of decay, heaps of rubbish, eaten fast food or chaotic piles of clothes increasingly appear in the timeline. More and more often, strong filtering is dispensed with and instead a shaky or poor photo quality is sought.