This past Monday, October 4th, one story consumed people and the media around the world. No, it wasn’t a declaration of war, a terrorist attack or global economic collapse. It was the news that two of the world’s most popular social media platforms, Facebook and Instagram, were down due to technical difficulties for several hours.
That morning I received texts from several of my friends, all of whom were fellow gay men living in West Hollywood, expressing shock and dismay. Checking these platforms had become such an intrinsic part of their daily lives for so long now that for them to be unavailable was a bizarre and surreal feeling.
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I have to admit that to some extent I felt the same way, though I also experienced an odd sense of relief as well. Knowing that Facebook and Instagram, at least for those few hours, essentially didn’t exist gave me a sense of freedom I hadn’t had in a long time.
Saying that may sound silly, I know, and I even chuckled a few times thinking about the absurdity of the whole fiasco. But it also made me think that this might be a good moment for the whole world, and also the LGBTQ+ community specifically which has its own particular issues on this front, to confront and reckon with the negative impact that social media has had on us.
Now don’t get me wrong- I’m proud to be gay and genuinely believe that it is one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me. I think there are many unique things that make our community beautiful and special, and I believe the good by far outweighs the bad. But we do sometimes have a dark side, and there’s no area where that may be more true than on this particular issue.
I’ve written about the topic of body image on this website before, and my own personal struggles with it. I consider myself under normal circumstances a strong person who is able to push through adversity, but as someone who has lived in the gay village of West Hollywood for 11 years now, I can say that the emphasis by some gay men on physical perfection- actually perfection across the board really- has had a really detrimental impact on my mental health.
I think this is a crisis that has existed in the gay community for a long time, but has really been amplified in recent years by Facebook, Instagram, and other apps and websites like it. Every day users are exposed to images of people who in reality probably don’t even look or live the way they do online, but what we see is a barrage of fantasy that most feel they can’t live up to.
The impact this has on people’s lives is immeasurably detrimental. I know from personal experience the low self-esteem and anxiety it can produce and know many stories of people who have attempted to or actually have committed suicide due to the pain and pressure.
If this frenzy due to the Facebook and Instagram outage doesn’t serve as a wake-up call, what will? It’s time for us to step back, examine the situation and take action to make a change. Let’s have a community conversation about what we can do to make things better, and fast.