Not-so-social media

LUCY KNOWLES / AGGIE
LUCY KNOWLES / AGGIE

Students discuss social media usage on college campuses

1000 percent. That is the percentage that social media usage for Americans ages 18 to 29 has increased by since 2007. Simmons National Consumer Study estimates that 98 percent of college-aged students now use social media platforms. It’s not just these numbers that appear so daunting and magnified; when it comes to social media, nearly everything seems amplified and larger than life.

When first-year English major Hadley Roberts-Donnelly entered UC Davis last fall, she thought she had a good sense of what “the college experience” was. Many of her friends at semester-system universities had already been in school for a month or more, and she’d seen their Instagram posts, Snapchats and Facebook timelines. College appeared to be extremely social and eventful — everything that an eager teen straight out of high school could want.

Unfortunately, Roberts-Donnelly’s first Fall Quarter fell short of her expectations, and she found herself struggling to find a close circle of friends, but the photos of her friends at other schools continued to portray a college life that was much different than her own.

“I believed that I wasn’t having as much fun as they were, and so I thought there was something really wrong — either with the school or with me and how I was indulging in the school,” Roberts-Donnelly said. “In that sense, social media can be harmful because it was a false reality of what was going on. We were all actually having the same experiences, but it didn’t seem like that. No one knows that, unless you talk.”

It wasn’t until later in the year that Roberts-Donnelly realized she was hardly alone in her situation. A friend from University of California, Santa Cruz admitted that she too, had difficulty finding a core group of friends. Roberts-Donnelly was shocked at this admission since her friend was so active on social media.

“I told her, ‘It seems like you’re having so much fun! I see so many people with you in your posts online,’” Roberts-Donnelly said. “My friend responded that those were people that she knew, but not ones that she really considered friends. I realized that it was the same with me.”

This experience could be more common among students who primarily use social media platforms that are photo-centric, like Snapchat and Instagram. Snapchat videos and photos show no more than 10 seconds at a time and disappear after 24 hours. While Instagram posts are permanent unless deleted by the user, they are another example of a capture of a single moment which might not accurately represent reality.

Both Roberts-Donnelly and second-year human development major Kelly Le use these two apps more frequently than outlets like Facebook and Twitter. This is especially interesting when Le recalled a freshman experience that was similar to Roberts-Donnelly’s.

“I went through a tough transition going into college. At first, I spent a lot of time on my own,” Le said. “On welcome week, everyone is partying with their peers. It became very tough for me to even check social media in that time because I was comparing myself to what everyone else was doing even though it was just a single snapshot I was seeing. I told myself that these people were having fun every weekend, then every day, then almost every second of their lives.”

According to Le, when she became more comfortable attending social events, she noticed people using their social media more often at parties than in other situations — using the opportunity to document themselves. Le said that this made her hyper-aware of her image on social media.

“Just earlier this year, I posted a Snapchat with a couple of girls I’d met at a party. I only knew like half of them though, and I don’t really know why I posted it,” Le said. “Once I did post, I kept wondering if people were judging me or viewing me a certain way because of that photo. In reality, I don’t party that often, and now I post my pictures pretty infrequently. I don’t want people to view me as a girl that just parties because they only see my photos.”

So, what’s the case with social media that goes beyond just photos? Fourth-year civil engineering major Aaron Keonorasak is active on photo-sharing apps including Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. However, he spends the most time on a social networking platform that both Le and Roberts-Donnelly have not used in college: Tumblr.

“Facebook has mostly become a place for me to upload photos now, and everything that I used to do on Facebook seems to have transferred to Tumblr,” Keonorasak said. “I’ll write posts when I’m feeling witty or funny. I reblog a lot of things dealing with social justice, like issues that people of color face, or articles and opinions about feminism. I’ve used it to connect with awesome people from all over the nation and in other countries.”

Keonorasak uses the microblogging site to learn more about social conversations that take place outside of his immediate friend group. In fact, he prefers that his friends at school don’t follow him on Tumblr at all, and discourages them from actively trying to search for him. After years of keeping his world on Tumblr separate from his real life, it is something he has grown into. For him, Tumblr is a form of social media, but it’s also somewhat of a safe haven.

Le also keeps some of her social media activity private, though in different ways and for different reasons. Instead of liking or sharing a news article immediately which would make the posts reappear on her friends’ newsfeeds, Le chooses to use Facebook’s “save link” function or copy the link onto a separate page. She does so to avoid being traced back to the article through Facebook. She also attentively avoids liking Instagram posts that may resurface in a page where followers can observe what other users have liked.

“I don’t really want people to see that I’ve liked a 10-week old picture of Nick Jonas or something. So I’ll just look at it and avoid double-clicking,” Le said. “I don’t want people to attribute that to me or think that I am a certain way or that I believe in certain things just because they can see that I’ve read about it or liked it.”

Though Roberts-Donnelly said she doesn’t mind if people are made aware of her beliefs, she is careful not to incite too much conflict with family members that may disagree with her — especially ones who are friends with her on Facebook.

“A huge reason why I don’t use Facebook that often is because I have a lot of relatives on there,” Roberts-Donnelly said. “While they’re not exactly conservative or anything, they sometimes don’t take criticism of their generation very well or understand concepts that me and my friends care about.”

Instead, Roberts-Donnelly chooses to write about the Black Lives Matter movement, the #YesAllWomen campaign and other feminist projects through Twitter. Since starting university, she found that her social media presence isn’t as prominent as it once was in high school. Le’s social media habits have not changed too drastically either, however she prefers that people who want to stay updated on her life call her, text her or meet in person. And while Keonorasak admits that he finds it “a little weird” when people don’t have Facebook accounts, he understands there is likely a good reason.

All three people have unfollowed and unfriended individuals whom they no longer keep in touch with, simply because those persons’ posts and photos are no longer relevant to their life at Davis.

“I think the thing about social media is that it makes it very easy to make friends and keep up with them,” Keonorasak said. “But it’s very easy to lose them too.”

Written by: Anjali Bhat — features@theaggie.org