Column: Do social media “stories” promote toxic behavior?


Jordan Baron

With the “story” feature popping up on an increasing number of social media platforms, could users’ motives behind constantly posting on social media be unhealthy?

Pavithra Rajesh, news correspondent

What started as a feature unique to Snapchat has now become a generational phenomenon prominent on virtually every social media platform. “Stories” have weaseled their way onto Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp, and it’s hard to imagine someone not using them. 

According to an anonymous survey of 75 Northeastern University students, only 4 percent of students reported that they never post stories. 62.7 percent use Snapchat the most to post stories, while 33.3 percent prefer Instagram. Stories allow people to provide constant updates to their followers about anything and everything going on in their lives at the moment it happens. While the reasons behind posting stories are varied, the increasing presence this feature has in our lives leads to the question of whether this behavior should be encouraged.

It is not uncommon to refresh your Instagram feed every five seconds and see a new story each time. According to the survey, on average, 6.7 percent of students post several stories per day, 2.7 percent post one story per day, 25.3 percent post several stories per week, 20 percent post one story per week and 40 percent post stories only a few times per month.

“At this point, I use Instagram stories more than looking at actual posts on Instagram,” one student said in the survey. 

The answers in the survey show that the top five types of content for stories include, in descending order, pictures of events, scenery, casual footage of friends and family, birthday wishes and posts of social and political importance. Certainly, people post stories for different reasons, but it boils down to an urge to update people about the happenings in their lives. 

I don’t know how I feel about stories. I understand that at its core the feature is simply a way for people to let others know about their lives, especially people they don’t get to see very often. But another part of me notices that some people post stories in a desperate need to prove to others that they are living exciting, active lives and are always surrounded by friends. I remember a moment from a long time ago when I was sitting next to someone and we were both on our phones, completely bored, not talking at all. We barely knew each other. Then, she proceeded to open Instagram and said, “I need this for my story.” She took a picture of me, tagged me and acted like we were having the best time. 

“Stories can sometimes be used to create a fabricated image of a ‘perfect life’ by staging certain events or flaunting your social life,” one student responded to the survey. “It definitely gives you a bit of a boost in self-confidence, but that might be worrisome.” 

Our generation’s rising need for external validation seems to have found its home in stories for some people. It appears that many have an urgent desire to ensure that nobody ever thinks they’re doing nothing or that they’re bored or lonely. This begs the question of how much longer we can continue this habit before it turns toxic and unhealthy, if it hasn’t already.

While I try to make a conscious effort to avoid posting stories just to make my life seem more exciting to other people, I will be the first to admit that it’s hard. When I’m having a good time, I do sometimes want other people to know that, and knowing that I could share that information with the click of a button is a dangerous temptation. I am guilty of craving external validation and acceptance at times, and when I see other people doing it, I want to partake. 

But I always try my best to question myself. Why do I need other people to know that I’m having a good time? Why do I need someone else’s acknowledgement to make a moment worthwhile? Shouldn’t I be able to enjoy the moment for what it is and not for what other people think about it?

Not everyone takes posting stories so seriously. One student said stories are “a good way to share something that’s not important or aesthetically pleasing enough to go on your feed,” while another said that they are “just another way of sharing whatever is going in your life with people you know.”

The “stories” feature has its merits, providing people with a quick and easy medium to connect with others both for personal and professional reasons. But to ignore the potentially significant negative side effects this continuous dependence may have would be dangerous and toxic in itself.