#STOLEN: Is Social Media Stealing Your Identity?

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by Jessica Fralin

This is probably weird, but I like to walk by open laptops in a coffee shop (which is where I spend at least half of my free time). I always peek to see if Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest is open. Almost every time, at least one of them is. Sometimes all three. And smartphones are everywhere. They’ve become the Mom-I-really-have-to-have-this gift of the century. It’s incredible, isn’t it? We get to be connected 24/7, to almost all of the information in the world. (Although my greatest talent when it comes to the iPhone seems to be shattering my screen.) If you’re not on Twitter, people question your sanity, because everybody is on Twitter. Even my grandma has a Twitter account, and she’s eighty years old!

Addiction is a word running wild today. It’s splashed across headlines and rolls off the tongues of news broadcasters. You’ve heard the tragic stories about celebrities and next-door neighbors alike who got sucked in by a problem they never dreamed they’d have. Some people are held captive by drugs or alcohol, while others are consumed with shopping or eating or gambling. Whatever their obsessions, you’ve learned to recognize addiction in people. You’ve learned to recite the maxim “everything in moderation,” and maybe even started to tune out the endless talks you get in classrooms and on commercials about the dangers these things can cause. All the while, some of us are busy feeding our own obsession with pinning and liking and commenting every day. It seems innocent enough, doesn’t it? But could this be a whole new brand of addiction—one that’s subtle and socially acceptable?

It’s dangerous because we live in the loudest time in history. The voices are constant, and there are so many of them. Even in our most silent moments, we allow a multitude of voices in, letting them speak deep statements in our lives—statements about who we are, what we are worth, and who we should measure ourselves against. Comparisons. Criticisms. Compliments. And we don’t even have to speak to anyone to hear them. Do you think maybe we’ve become addicted to the noise?

All too often, I’ve let the chatter become my measuring stick. I let all those voices on social media define me.

All too often, I’ve let the chatter become my measuring stick. I let all those voices on social media define me. I crave validation from them and feel depressed when I don’t get it. Does that sound familiar to you? Turning the chatter off and tuning it out are two of the hardest things I’ve ever learned, but they are also the most rewarding. I’m excited to dive in with you and explore how we can do that in the world of social media.

PROTECTING YOUR IDENTITY

Do you know who you really are? You’ve already been defined. As beautiful. As unique. As loved. Don’t let social media tell you any different. Somehow, simply being human seems to walk hand in hand with insecurity. It’s weirdly comforting to know that this struggle is universal: no age, gender, race, or financial situation is immune to the insecurities that can wreck us. We all struggle to know the truth about who we are—and even more so, to believe it. There’s something deep within us that craves security, love, and worth—we’re wired for it. Just glance back through your history books and you’ll see that in every generation, humans have been desperate for these things. And you’ll also see that people have always struggled to believe that they are good enough, loved enough, and beautiful enough. The lies that whisper to your soul didn’t pop up out of nowhere. It’s a struggle that’s existed from the first recorded days and continues as you’re reading this page.

LIFE BEFORE SNAPCHAT

Before social media, your options to communicate hurtful words or gossip were limited. You could use your home telephone to call the other person’s home telephone, which another member of their family might easily answer instead. If that felt too risky, maybe you could write out your rant and send it in a letter. Yes, an actual letter—a piece of paper that takes several days to get delivered to a mailbox. Or, if you were patient, you could just wait to talk to your friend in person.

How many of the comments that you see online every day would actually make it if they had to go through one of these options instead?

How about comparing your beauty to others? Before the Internet, you could go to the store and buy a magazine. You could flip through the few local channels you have on your television. Or you could go to the mall and look at what other girls were wearing and shopping for.

What about getting to know what the cute guy in your class was up to? Well, that’s too bad. Unless you knew one of his friends who would tell you all about his life, or you creepily followed him around, you would just have to actually get to know him. Oh, the horror.

Today, if you have something hurtful to say, you can post it, text it, Tweet it, or better yet, subtweet it. The options are endless.Comparisons? Just hop on Pinterest. Or Tumblr. Check out any fashion blog or store website. TiVo any reality show. Everywhere you turn, you find the world’s standards of fashion and beauty staring you right in the face.

And that cute boy? You can just follow him—not in real life, but on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine. Almost every personal detail of his life will be available to you. You can decide whether you’re “in love” or not before you even speak a word to him.

That’s the world we live in. But can you see how dangerous it can be?

Can I tell you something? Your life is interesting. You are interesting! Your life is so much more beautiful and complex and wild and wonderful than you could ever fit into 140 characters. You know that Dr. Seuss line, “There is no one alive who is youer than you?” I know you’re way past nursery rhymes, but there’s actually a lot of truth in that silly little sentence. You weren’t created to live just like everyone else. Comparison is a game we were never wired to play. But when you neglect your real life for the manicured one you present on social media, you start to become that online persona instead of the real person you are.

FIGHTING FIRES

Just picture a forest after a fire. Even after the most devastating fires, something crazy happens. Growth. Growth in insane proportions. All the burned pieces create rich soil that’s ready to house new plants. The dead has been burned away, and new, green life explodes everywhere you look. I think our hearts can look like that—full of new life. When we stop letting social media tell us who we are, we’re free to find our identities in all the right places. And as someone who has experienced both the devastation and the new life, I know it’s worth it.

Years ago, I heard the phrase “you are better healed than well,” and it really bothered me. I didn’t want to be healed from anything because I didn’t want to be sick. None of us chooses to be sick, do we? And I’m not just talking about physical sickness. I don’t think anyone wants to see sickness in their lives emotionally, spiritually, or mentally. But after walking through some battles and gaining some wisdom along the way, I’ve come to love that quote. I cling to it. I rest in it. Because now that I’ve learned to stare into the face of my sickness, I understand what victory looks like. And I’ve learned what love looks like because I’ve been loved even at my darkest.And so have you. You are loved. It’s a truth that will set you free.

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Jessica Fralin is author of #Stolen: Is Social Media Stealing Your Identity? (Abingdon Press), which dives into the world of social media to take a close look at how it’s changed the way we communicate — and, even deeper than that, the way we define ourselves.

Fralin is a twenty-something who is handling adult life pretty well, except for the idea of killing bugs by herself. As an author and speaker she loves exploring the creative side of communication, and her passion is sharing truth well, whether in print or in person. She currently lives & works in Nashville, Tennessee.

Visit her online at JessicaFralin.com, or on social media at facebook.com/jessicafralinwrites and @JessicaFralin on Twitter.