What may have started out as an innocent way to enhance selfies has perhaps taken a turn for the worst.
Remember back when “social media” consisted of AOL Messenger and MySpace? Where you had to wait at least 10 minutes for dial-up internet to kick in before even entering the digital world? It’s pretty crazy to think how accessible technology has become since then and where it’s projected to go next (hello, Metaverse!).
Aside from the rather addictive side effects of having multiple social media platforms constantly at our fingertips, there’s a blurred line between what’s real and what’s fake, as digitally augmented faces and bodies are flooding platforms.
Back in the AOL and MySpace days, it was a challenge to deceive. Users wouldn’t be able to vastly (or consistently) alter images without hiring a professional or stealing entirely new photos. However, as technology has developed, it’s now as easy as a click here and there. Advanced settings have even allowed this to go beyond just static images, as digitally designed avatars are becoming animated for TikTok videos and Instagram Reels.
Can You Tell What’s Fake and What’s Real?
Take a look at this. Twitter user, Jesse Livermore, points out the “deep fake” to watch out for. This original post from TikTok was taken and morphed to digitally create a fake influencer. In these examples, you can tell that a beauty-augmented face has been superimposed onto another body to create this new avatar.
Although she looks alarmingly real at first, it was discovered that the same face was used on an entirely different body in this other post (it’s the waistline magically holding up the pants for me!).
Digging deeper, this “deep fake” face is traced back to an entire Instagram account under the name Emily Yoo, which uses the same face on multiple bodies of different ethnicities and nationalities. Each post with this avatar has received thousands of likes, and the only indication that the “influencer” might be fake is where the bio says “Emily = virtual creation parody.”
Another example of a “deep fake” account on social media belongs to a 50-year-old Japanese man named Soya who took to editing apps like FaceApp to morph himself into a pretty, young motorbiking woman. According to the BBC, as the posts began generating more traction, fans started to notice subtle flaws and flubs, like a “very hairy arm” and a “different reflection in the mirror.”
Why would Soya feel compelled to do this? When interviewed on a TV show, he said it all started by just innocently wanting to increase his social media presence. He believed people would relate more to a “young beautiful woman” as opposed to an “old uncle.”
"No one will read what a normal middle-aged man, taking care of his motorcycle and taking pictures outside, posts on his account," he said.
Sadly, he was right. After changing his photo identity, he received thousands of likes whereas before he claimed to barely average 10. Soya admitted to falling prey to the addicting side effects of false popularity saying, “I got carried away gradually as I tried to make it cuter.”
Turns out Beyoncé isn’t the only one with an alter ego.
What’s the Deal with FaceApp?
Are these just outlier cases? Or are they indicative of a larger, problematic trend? The popularity of photo editing apps could give us a clue.
FaceApp was initially released in 2017. Since then, it has been downloaded over 500 million times, according to Google. If you go to the app’s landing page, you’ll notice the plethora of photo editing tools available upon installation. There’s airbrushed skin, eye enhancements, background filters, makeup filters, aging options, facial hair additions and removal, plus so much more all claiming to turn your portrait into a magazine cover. That means 500 million or so people have used these tools to “fix” their photos.
But not all 500 million people are using completely fake faces. There’s no harm done with some small filters, right? Perhaps. It all comes down to the intention behind using them and being honest with yourself about it. Influencer and activist Josephine Livin, who’s speaking out against face augmenting and body morphing, said that most women actually state being more insecure around using microfilters as opposed to the more extreme ones.
She writes, “reminder: there are more than just one fake version. I often share the extremely filtered versions on my profile, but there are also the more subtle ones. the ones you would probably never guess were a filter unless you were told, because they look so natural. these are the ones a lot of you have told me make you the most insecure. not because of a big difference, but because of a little one. and so you compare yourself to what you’re sure is a real ‘i just woke up’ selfie, but in reality, is still a fake one.” [sic]
The Addiction No One Talks About
The sad part about social media is people are watching other people’s highlight reels (that are more than likely filtered and could even be artificially augmented) and comparing themselves ruthlessly to them. The resulting self-esteem blow compels consumers to change themselves in order to keep up...or chase after that next dopamine hit of the ever golden “like.”
The Addiction Center actually did a whole piece on this addiction that people rarely talk about. It states that when a person posts a picture, they receive instant positive social feedback, which stimulates the brain to release dopamine (the feel-good hormone) rewarding the behavior. Just like Pavlov’s dog, we fall into this social conditioning beyond our own control if we’re not careful. The social media-induced dopamine hit becomes problematic when a user turns to social media in order to relieve stress, loneliness, or depression. If a consumer is seeking out social media to provide continuous “rewards” they aren’t finding in real life, this habit can become dangerous.
In fact, I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of it to some extent. Dumped? Post a revenge “I look good” photo. Sad? Post a photo of how amazing life is. Bored? Better let everyone know how much fun you’re having!
It seems social media becomes a stage for external validation instead of an actual truthful expression of who we are. It’s no wonder people find themselves with thousands of followers yet still feeling empty, unhappy, and alone. They’ve lost one of the most important connections – the one with themselves.
How Is Social Media Impacting Social Life?
Before social media was how it is today, there was no way to alter a photo of yourself that was realistic or easy. Now, it’s easy to tweak a photo here and add a little something there and the next thing you know you're swimming in a sea of catphish.
Again, if not done with clear intentions and expectations, filters, augmenting, and body morphing can do a number on your self-confidence. You may find that you're hyper-critical of yourself as you become accustomed to your airbrushed images. As the likes roll in, you could begin wondering if people only like the fake you. You may feel guilty about using the filters at all. Maybe you feel shame and anxiety about it. Which could then lead to turning down social invitations or dates due to the fear of being “found out.” The cycle of loneliness strikes again, and this so-called “social” media proves to ironically be an anti-social agent.
With social media going nowhere anytime soon, it’s important to know these apps exist and how popular they are, plus learn limits around using them. There’s nothing more concerning than forgetting who you are at the core and getting all-consumed in social media as the only reality. When we allow our self-worth to become dependent on an outside source, we become more receptive to manipulation and control.
As comparison continues to plague us, remember the majority of what you’re seeing online isn’t even real. So stop doubting yourself when those moments arise and put an end to the cycle for someone else by showing up as the real you. Ultimately, it’s always refreshing to lead with your true, authentic self!
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