The false reality of social media
In a world of false realities and photoshop, Elizabeth Barber delves into how social media has increased celebrities unauthentic portrayals, and why this has repeatedly disappointed audiences.
We do not really know so many of the people we idolise who are in the public eye. Many celebrities and influencers may come across as genuine and authentic yet often every interview, post, and public interaction with fans is part of a carefully curated marketing strategy. While it’s easy to forget this, doing so often sets fans up for disappointment further down the road when it turns out their favourite celebrity isn’t who they claim to be.
James Corden’s persona on the Late Late Show – as a kind, friendly and energetic person – is a strong contrast against stories of his real-life behaviour. Most recently, he was temporarily banned from a New York City restaurant after the owner exposed Corden for ‘abusive’ behaviour towards staff members. Corden is one of many celebrities whose private behaviour often does not fit with their public persona. While this is nothing new, the rise in social media and ‘influencer culture’ over the past decade has made it even easier for people to hide behind an inauthentic character.
Doing so sets fans up for disappointment further down the road when it turns out their favourite celebrity isn’t who they claim to be.
Inherently we all know that social media is curated – no one would think twice about selecting the most flattering picture of themselves to post on Instagram. Yet despite this, it’s easy to forget when scrolling online that what appears to be candid is rarely so as almost everything influencers and celebrities post will be edited in some way. Especially for those who make their living on social media, each post is likely a strategic choice, often one which has been approved by numerous people.
While it’s one thing to idolise a celebrity based on interviews and what they post on Instagram, social media facilitates parasocial relationships- one-sided relationships, where a follower is emotionally invested in another party who is unaware of their existence. Influencers often document their entire lives, so when you see what someone does all day it’s easy (and understandable) to feel like you really know them. This can lead to a sense of betrayal when the person you felt you knew then acts out of character.
Social media facilitates parasocial relationships- one-sided relationships, where a follower is emotionally invested in another party who is unaware of their existence.
A recent example of this is the scandal involving the Try Guys, an online entertainment group and media production company who produce social media content, most notably on YouTube. Ned Fulmer, one of the four founding members, was known for being a family guy and frequently mentioned his wife – rarely by her name ‘Ariel’ and instead as ‘my wife’ – who also featured in a great deal of their content. A few years ago, in a video where the four men took part in a lie detector test, Ned admitted that to a certain extent he did play up his relationship when creating content but accurately said that doing so was very common.
In September of this year, Ned, who was also in charge of HR, was exposed for having had a relationship with one of his employees. He posted on Instagram apologising for ‘losing focus and having a consensual workplace relationship’, yet was not only criticised for publicly cheating on Ariel but also for ignoring the predatory nature of his actions. When the news broke many fans expressed shock and outrage, especially given the persona he’d created for himself as it’s difficult to not reflect on past content and question his sincerity when talking about how he valued his wife and family.
While media and celebrity culture has always enabled celebrities to create a persona that doesn’t align with who they really are, social media has made this even easier. While it’s understandable to form an attachment to influencers whose content you enjoy engaging with, it’s important that we remember how easy and attractive inauthenticity can be when social media is your livelihood.