Panel of Students Talks Unwritten Rules of Social Media

love your body week

As part of Love Your Body Week, held by the Boston College Women’s Center, four students discussed the health impacts social media has on their lives at BC on Wednesday. They talked about the “unwritten rules” of social media, and how race and gender stereotypes must be addressed in this conversation.

A panel featuring Djanan Kernizan, MCAS ’19; Sarah Swallow, MCAS ’18; Joon Park, MCAS ’18; and Peter Rodriguez, CSOM ’18, led the discussion “Insta, Finsta and Reality: A Look at BC’s Unwritten Social Rules.” Each student claimed to be very active on social media, most of them naming Instagram as their platform of choice. Kim Chook, a staff member at the Women’s Center and MCAS ’18, moderated the panel.

“Do you think the way we post on social media always has to be appearance based?” Chook asked the panel.

Two members of the panel, Swallow and Park, said they use Instagram as a way to express themselves, similar to a personal diary memorializing good times. They focused on ways to balance pleasing yourself, versus pleasing other people.

“As a non-binary activist, I find Instagram to be an amazing tool to not necessarily preach, but to voice how I’m feeling with current events,” Park said. “It’s more of a dialogue starting tool. As a queer person of color who just didn’t see enough representation out there … I feel a certain responsibility to break ideas about who’s allowed to be confident. I think with Instagram there’s a certain leeway to perform a confidence that you won’t necessarily see in my day to day life.”

Kernizan said her platform does not necessarily represent her, and that she is more than what her Instagram feed looks like.

Chook then asked the audience to raise their hands if they thought their social media represented them as a sort of personal diary. Only a few people raised their hands. But when asked if they worried about how other people see their photos, most of the audience members raised their hands.

The panel continued to discuss whether their Instagram accounts were for the purpose of pleasing themselves, or pleasing others, and how to find a balance that is healthiest for them. They determined that being on a college campus has a significant effect on what they post on social media.

One audience member said that she has overheard plenty of people at BC criticizing other people’s social media posts. She said that you can either let these judgements control what you post, or you can decide to push back against the haters and do what you want instead.

Swallow said that it is important not only to post for oneself, but to make sure one does not judge others for what they post. Judging others only feeds back to this dominant discourse in society, and this idea that somehow clothing, for instance, equates to consent, she said. She said there are plenty of haters who will objectify women, but as females, people have to take back their bodies by posting picture not for likes, but rather to spread a message about feminism.

While talking about the unwritten rules of social media, the panel discussed whether it is acceptable or not to post a solo picture. Rodriguez said he thinks it is different for guys and girls, and he might find it odd if a guy did this. Swallow, on the other hand, said we need to be wary of these rules we place on ourselves, and that she would respect a guy for posting a picture of just himself.

On the topic of stereotypes, the students discussed how these “unwritten rules” can apply to different races. Swallow acknowledged that a white person, for instance, can do things on social media that would be depicted much differently than if it were posted by a person of color. She says this ultimately shows how Instagram is reflective of these dominant discourses society needs to break down.

Kernizan said that she would like to post freely on social media, but due to things she has internalized and stereotypes she faces as a black woman, she does not feel that she can post whatever she likes.

Rachel DiBella, assistant director of the Women’s Center, asked the members of panel how they measure or are aware of the extent to which these social media platforms are enhancing their lives, and at what point does it started to detract from their lives.

Though many of the panel members previously expressed their love for Instagram and social media, they admitted that too much social media is not healthy. From needing validation from the number of likes received, to losing sleep from wasting time of your phone, Rodriguez, Park and Kernizan spoke about how social media can lead to unhealthy habits.

“Social media is a big community, and when you see a community within that community that you’re not apart of, that’s when it becomes sort of a negative,” Rodriguez said.

Park said they do a good job of balancing their time, making an effort to not use their phone in intimate settings with their friends. That being said, Rodriguez said social media is unhealthy to those who cannot find this balance, and mentioned the dangers of Snapchat stories, for instance, on one’s self esteem.

“I literally had to log out of my Instagram because I was feeling physically sick,” Kernizan said. “When you start to feel lonely or left out, and when it starts to affect how you view yourself is when that balance needs to come in.”

In many of the audience members’ comments, they admitted that they did not realize until now how they feel the need to be validated by the number of likes on their Instagram posts.

The panel ultimately spoke to how social media can impact students and their body images in a positive way as long as they post for themselves, and find a healthy balance between social media and reality.

“Let’s just face it, we’re in a digital world and we’re not going to be going back,” Swallow said. “I think there’s something a lot more natural now about taking a photo and expressing how you’re feeling, because that’s the world we’re living in. I don’t think it means you’re some superficial person to want people to know how you’re feeling, but I think it’s an amazing message to portray.”

 Featured Image by Alexa Foust / For The Heights