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Lying about your life on Facebook isn’t as fun as it sounds (I tried)

Call me naive, trusting, or worse, but the very notion of someone faking social network statuses to make themselves appear less of a pathetic loser never entered my mind. It turns out, if a video called What’s On Your Mind is accurate, it goes on a lot, and it’s more depressing than a double bill of Requiem for a Dream and The Road. In it, we see a guy saddened by his life, and crushed by some unfortunate events. To deal with it, he posts embellished updates on Facebook, and becomes addicted to Likes.

I joined liars anonymous, and got to work creating a completely fabricated Facebook post.

It certainly made me examine my own feed for any evidence of deception. My own Facebook seemed like a veritable sanctuary of truth prior to seeing the video, because everyone I’m friends with is exactly that: a friend. While I’m confident none of the people on my Facebook page lie about their lives online (potentially awkward situation avoided), the rest of the world doesn’t seem to be so honest.

I’m not someone who believes everything I read online, and like any social media user, I’m used to seeing everything, good and bad, being shared. I realize not everything on social media is absolute fact, but a complete lie seemed to go too far in the opposite direction. Why would anyone fib about what they’re doing? What is there to gain? A Like? My attention, jealousy, or admiration?

Facebook Envy is to blame, apparently

Apparently, such hideous behavior could be driven by something called Facebook Envy. This is a condition where the terminally unsatisfied browse through their friends’ pages and see vastly superior lives, before getting down to planning a one-way trip to the gallows. A study conducted last year showed an astonishing one in three people suffered from Facebook Envy, and that it often led to posting overblown boasts about their own lives.

Because one in three Facebook users aren’t throwing themselves off a cliff every day, there has to be something to this whole “embellished status update” thing. To find out what the attraction is, I joined liars anonymous, and got to work creating a completely fabricated Facebook post. I went with an image of a car I couldn’t possibly afford, and suggested it was my new toy. After a couple of minutes, I got a Like. Then more came through.

Even though I was duping my friends, there was an initial rush of adrenalin as my experiment worked in the way I expected — big surprise, people were happy to see a really positive post — but I quickly began to feel really terrible. This was a complete lie, celebrated by people I like and admire, and one which could be exposed quite easily. My intention was always to explain, but if I had posted the picture solely to make myself feel better, I can’t see how it would have done so. Unless, that is, I was an utter monster.

A desire to remove the picture swept over me, but I forced myself to leave it up overnight and see what happened. Then I’d come clean. Lying on Facebook was turning out to far more harrowing than expected.

Lying is bad, mmmkay?

Come the morning, something even worse had happened. A comment saying “Post more pics!” appeared. The anguish was almost overwhelming. This was impossible, the car wasn’t mine, and I photographed it in a Starbucks’ car park; but that didn’t stop me from momentarily wishing I could share more, and that the car really was parked outside. While different, this dissatisfaction with my own life wasn’t all that preferable to feeling like a lying bastard.

Fake Facebook Post

It was clear that fabricating a glamorous life online wasn’t for me, so who the hell is it for? The range of emotions I felt were almost entirely negative after posting that picture, and any sympathy for the sad sack in need of doing such a thing on a regular basis disappeared. Who, in their right mind, could live like this? The video’s protagonist, along with all the other Facebook liars, is obviously a cold-hearted, soulless maniac. Someone for whom the Macdonald Triad was invented.

It’s a given we’re not getting the whole story from a picture or a sentence shared with us, but if all we’re reading is fiction, then what’s the point? Unless you fill your spare time torturing small animals and changing wet bedsheets, turning your social network feed into something Hans Christian Andersen would be proud of, is unlikely to have a positive effect on your life.

Instead of pressuring us to swear off social networks, the What’s On Your Mind video is the wake-up call a society obsessed with online sharing needs. Share as much as you like (I don’t have to read it), just do it honestly, and don’t worry too much about the pictures your old school mate Dave posts, because chances are, they could be as genuine as my new car.

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