By: Amanda Douglas and Aidan Linscott
Social media is a communication platform that is constantly changing what we share and how we share it. It is ubiquitous among millennials, even beginning to expand into the lives of young kids, but everybody uses it in their own way. Earlier this year, we examined the Twitter feed of Branson senior Avani Bahl, discussing her and other students’ use of social media. We also spoke with Jorge Rodriguez, a Branson English teacher, to hear his opinion on the matter: he only dabbles in social media. Now, we want to give you, Branson, a look at something else entirely. Many members of this community have a distaste for Branson’s email system, but not Jeff Symonds! Jeff once said, “Email? What’s email? I only Instagram.” With that in mind, we are going to give you an inside look into the private Instagram accounts of 3 Branson students: seniors Maddy and Sophia, and junior Armaan.
Armaan first joined the Instagram community in eighth grade with a public account, allowing a variety of people to follow it. This last summer, he created his private account, one only open to people he chooses. After hearing about “the concept” of a private Instagram account, he realized that he was really interested in it. He told The Blazer, “I wanted a place where I could rant to my friends and have a space where I could post anything I wanted to, without having to worry about certain people seeing it.” Armaan’s main goal with his private account is “to be entertaining. Sometimes I’ll rant about something that’s happened, but I really just want to make someone laugh. Originally [my private account] wasn’t as funny, but I think I started being funnier and people responded positively to that.” Armaan’s posts, while diverse in content, all tie back to a central theme of humor. Some of his posts are lighthearted, like when he lamented about and celebrated his first and second attempts to swim with the dolphins, or when he shared a selfie of himself in his new sunglasses.
The account also allows him to express his mood to his followers, serving as a useful mode to channel negative emotion into laughter. When junior year smashed him for the millionth time, he took a commemorative selfie for Instagram to make it all better.
Earlier this year, Screenagers, a documentary about the amount of time that millennials spend looking at devices and the impact that it can have on their lives, was screened for the whole student body. Around Branson, it’s become a joke to call someone out for being a “screenager” when they are on their phone. But as lightly as the community has absorbed the message, it still remains a significant topic for our generation. Armaan shared his thoughts on the movie’s argument: “I thought the message was very important because sometimes I find myself, and others, just looking at our phones. I remember at Winter Formal, I was on my phone and someone came up to me and said, ‘Hey, why don’t we not be on our phones right now?’ and that was very powerful. There are moments when we need to interact with each other—phones are going to be checked at the door for the senior Safe Grad Night, and that’s a really great idea.” Even though Armaan agreed with Screenagers in this respect, he recognized the benefits of social media. He said, “[It] is a great thing because it can allow you to accomplish so much, [and] connect with people on a whole [different] level. I think you just need to use it at the right times.”
Unlike Armaan, Sophia did not make her account. She told The Blazer, “My friend made the account for me sophomore year, and I didn’t start using it until a couple of months later.” This kind of digital commandeering is not a rarity, and her friends even “did the first post, [which] was not a cute picture.” Sophia’s account parallels Armaan’s as they both strive for entertainment and humor. “I continued posting on it [whenever] I saw something funny and I was like, ’Hmmm, maybe I’ll share it with the cyber community,’” and after that, “it just kind of snowballed.” Like Armaan, Sophia manages a private account because it mainly consists “of inside jokes…that might not make sense to other people.” For instance, Sophia likes to laugh at herself and lightly satirize her Jewish heritage.
To her, what’s important about the private account is that “it’s kind of an outlet for funky things that people don’t know how else to say.” It allows her and others to be awkward in a relatively safe space because they choose who is able to be a part of the owner’s little community. To that end, private accounts tend to have less of a filter than their public counterparts. “It’s not necessarily about posting a pretty picture of myself or someone else,” Sophia said. “There are people who on their public Instagrams would post something that is meant to be aesthetically pleasing and mine is definitely not with that purpose.”
Sophia says that she maintains this account because “it’s funny. I enjoy laughing and I enjoy making other people laugh.” Whether or not humans want to admit it, there are usually groups of people that can identify with a certain theme, complaint, passion, etc. When people can find a common thread like that, accounts like Sophia’s can be quite successful.
Sophia says people who are privy to her posts are those that “will understand what I’m trying to say,” because they share that common thread. “Each post has its own satirical purpose and its own way of conveying how I feel,” said Sophia. She turns each post “into a joke so that people can laugh off a serious matter, such as Donald Trump.”
Despite being an avid user of social media, Sophia had some remarks on the film Screenagers. “People are definitely spending too much time looking at screens…it’s terrifying how many hours a day we spend looking at a screen, whether it’s for academics or social [reasons].” Of course, screens have become such an integral part of modern society that it’s difficult to exclude them entirely. Sophia said one of her big concerns “is the effect that social media has on the psychology of [children].” There are absolutely appropriate and advantageous ways to use social media, which The Blazer has looked at. But there are also some issues with it. Sophia says, “I see a lot of pictures with people wearing swimsuits in the attempt of showing off their body. And no shame. If you’re proud of your body, show it. But it’s disturbing when people alter the image in order to get more likes or to get a certain image, and then other people are seeing that and saying, ‘Why am I not that perfect?’”
Sophia definitely sees the benefit in social media and employs it to her advantage. Its ultimate effect on someone, however, “depends [on] how you use it. On Facebook, don’t post something racist and don’t post something that you think will not get you a job later in life. You don’t want a picture of you taking body shots when you’re naked in Cabo. You’ve got be safe about it. Don’t take everything so seriously. People are so caught up. I see people sharing each other’s photos, like ‘Like this. She needs to get to X number of likes.’ If that’s how you’re spending your time, concerned with a number beneath your photo, that is more concerning than the fact that you spend that much time taking that photo. There are more important things in life than how many people appreciate your photo.”
Like Sophia, Maddy’s private Instagram account, named “mad4marmalade,” came into being early in high school. She created it the summer before her sophomore year at Branson, about a year after joining Instagram with her main account. She explained why she was originally inspired to create the account: “I’ve had thoughts that I felt like would be entertaining for people to laugh at me, mostly at me not really with me. So then private [Instagram accounts] kind of became a thing and [they were] a way to express things that were maybe inappropriate or so on-the-low that not all your followers would want to be in on [the posts]. I had no use for that because I really didn’t have much to hide. But I did have a use for something that wouldn’t completely tarnish my reputation, but [that] I could still use as an outlet to extend any sense of humor.” Her account serves as a safe place for her to comment on Branson life.
Maddy described the account as “almost like a blog” since “it more reveals [her] personality than other social media.” Similarly to Armaan, Maddy sees her private account as “an outlet.” She explained, “Even though it’s an instagram account, it’s really served as a way to let off stress by creating a humorous outlet for me [where I can] share things with others and interact with people over social media.” She frequently employs self-deprecating humor as a means to laugh at herself and shut down the haters.
Maddy sees her account as different from the normal private account, as she doesn’t have “particularly juicy” details that she wants to share with her “really close friends,” but she still wants to make sure that her followers are well-acquainted with her. “Some of the things I say, I’m joking, but if you didn’t know I was joking, it would be offensive…. I’m not posting anything super secretive, but I don’t want people to be offended by what I’m writing, so I limit [my followers] in that sense,” she explained. In some of her posts, she takes on the persona of a relationship and life coach, giving tips to her followers about their love lives.
Maddy’s view about Screenagers and social media’s effect on our generation aligns with Armaan’s closely. “I think that, regardless of what you’re doing, social media should be an addition to your life and not a replacement of your life,” she said. “I don’t think it should be used to talk about other people, unless it’s complimentary. I don’t think it needs to be used to be texting all the time; conversations one-on-one still hold much more value than a texting conversation,” Maddy further explained. While she agreed with the message of Screenagers in this sense, she feels that there are definite “beneficial” aspects to social media. She said, “I agree with the notion that it should be limited, but I don’t agree that it’s an inevitable evil and all-negative.”
Undoubtedly, social media can be harmful if used too frequently or to hurt others. But as we saw with these three accounts, it can also be a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day for both the account-owner and follower, and isn’t that worth it?