The signs you're a 'social media narcissist'. And how to avoid being one.

The following is an excerpt from Disconnect: Why We Get Pushed to Extremes Online and How to Stop It by Jordan Guiao, a lively, topical look at the rise of internet extremism and what we can do about it.

How many selfies is too many? Does a baby shower or birthday dinner need the perfect setting, decor and lighting for it to be a success? Do our lives need to be ‘grammable for it to be worthwhile?

When our profiles on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook demand our ‘best selves’, there is huge pressure to overexpose and over share. Casual events become highly produced operations, life milestones become opportunities for photoshoots and random thoughts are turned into inspirational quotes.

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When life becomes content and content becomes life, we turn into social media narcissists who live for the ‘likes’. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

How to be authentic online

Are we destined for a world where we become fully ‘transparent’, where our most private moments are broadcast for all to see, or can we continue to value our experiences without the social validation we gain by posting about them? Will our lives become merely content, as we devalue everyday moments that aren’t deemed post-worthy, warping our sense of real life? While we cannot say where social media will take our society, we do have choice and agency as to how (and whether) we use it.


Every post we make involves a conscious decision about how we present ourselves online. What we post may be superficial or vain, or it can be empowering and do broader good. We can choose to present ourselves as vapid influencers, valuing inauthentic approximations of life, or we can seek to cultivate authentic online representations, which draw on community, real emotions and real relationships. That’s not to say we can never post something frivolous or silly, but the version of self we create on our Instagram and Facebook feeds should be recognisable to us as us. The balance of real life to manufactured content should always fall on the side of glorious, messy, mundane reality.

What we should strive for is an online experience where our representations of ourselves and our choices around that representation are as healthy and minimally harmful as possible, both for our own sake and for others’. This means being aware of the impact of what we post and being mindful of not skewing or distorting our content, lest we start to believe in a distorted view of reality.

What can individuals do?

Recognise that social media profiles are only snapshots.

The constant barrage of content on social media, and the way that Instagram, Facebook and Twitter encourage endless scrolling, can short-circuit our brains. Too much time spent looking at others’ profiles may make us think we are viewing reality instead of approximations of it.


Social media feeds are carefully curated, algorithmically enhanced products and do not reflect the full spectrum of a person’s identity. The first step in transitioning from being a passive to an active consumer of content is understanding their design and their limits. We mustn’t compare our lives to curated feeds because the two are not the same. We mustn’t fool ourselves into thinking that Instagram can give us a real insight to that person’s thoughts, failures, and achievements. Social media feeds are just a series of snapshots, moments in time, often with little context and therefore questionable value. Keeping this front of mind every time we log in will help change how we approach social media content.

Learn to unfollow.

Facebook has hijacked the word ‘friend’. RSVPs have become merely signs of good intentions. Active communication has given way to passive stalking. And spending time with people has been compromised by spending time looking at social media profiles.

A tenuous relationship with ‘the real’ can lead users to confuse between genuine relationships and acquaintances. ‘Dunbar’s number’ is a concept which states that humans are only able to maintain about 150 relationships – the size of a small tribe. Social media has complicated this with its capacity to foster virtual relationships, but the theory holds a persistent truth – we cannot maintain meaningful relationships at a certain scale. As we engage with others online, it’s worth being clear about who our real friends are and who are merely followers. The number of followers does not equal the amount of meaningful interaction.


Periodically reassess who you follow on social media and why. Is an influencer offering valuable advice and insights or just posting pretty pictures that make you feel bad about yourself? Do you think about their content when you’re offline? Does it serve you to comment on others’ posts if you are only doing so to seek their approval? What are you gaining from these interactions – and what are you losing?

If social media is beginning to make you question your self-worth or warp your idea of relationships, body image and lifestyle, then perhaps it’s time to unfollow. Influencers, some of whom are engaged in an unhealthy cycle of posting due to a pressure to broadcast regularly to their followers and keep up their audience figures, might even benefit from your disengagement. A decreasing audience for their harmful content could be the most constructive feedback of all.

Ultimately, it’s worth asking yourself the question: does following this person add value to my life?

Keep some things offline.

It might seem blatantly obvious that there is value in being selective about what you post, when and why. But many young people, screen addicts and even professionals who work in and with social media can feel pressured to post as much as they can about their lives and thoughts online. Whether it’s to fit in with their peer group, or because they don’t recognise the addictive nature of algorithms (which are designed to maximise time spent on the platform), or whether it’s become a measure of their self-worth or professional success, many people slip into the habit of obsessively posting content, often without forethought or insight.


More content does not mean a fuller life – if anything, the opposite may be true. An event or a memorable moment is no less important if does not appear on social media. And sometimes, a quick tweet or comment that may seem witty or mildly controversial at the time can have far-reaching negative consequences.

If you are a serial poster, try to work out what you gain from it. Are you addicted to the dopamine hits of instant reaction? Who are you posting content for? Does it need to be said or shown? What value does it offer your followers? Aim to cut down the number of posts you make in a typical week, either by a certain percentage or by making the decision to only post with deliberation and thought, when something strikes you as worthy. You may find that posting less often will make a positive difference to the quality of both your life and your profile.

Disconnect or take a social media break.

Research has demonstrated that taking breaks from social media can improve wellbeing, depression and anxiety. The idea of ‘disconnecting’ might seem obvious and simple, but it is a lot easier said than done. The reality is that much of our lives is mediated by digital technology and our smartphones are irritatingly useful devices that now house so much utility – our contacts, our bank accounts, our entertainment, our shopping, our news, our work and more. Disconnecting, therefore, needs to be a conscious and deliberate effort, but there are different tactics that could help.

Turn on features that limit usage.

Many smartphones now come with features that limit your time spent on certain apps. You can set up time limits; when you reach that limit, some apps send alerts, while others shut the app down.


Turn off notifications.

Notifications keep us in a constant state of alertness and attentiveness, providing a stream of stimulus which keeps you hooked to your device. Turning these off could help with curbing social media usage.

Schedule offline times.

Meal breaks, the hour before going to bed, or any other appropriate moment where you don’t need your phone could assist you in creating routines and habits where social media usage is limited.

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Disentangle functions from your phone.

Do you really need to use your smart wallet or Apple Pay for transactions? Do you really need the Opal or Myki app, rather than the physical card, to board public transport? Do you really need to download every app suggested to you? Disentangling utilities from your smartphone may help to limit online connectivity.

These are only some suggestions of ways to disconnect, which could help make the use of social media healthier and more manageable. But ultimately, what we need is to develop online spaces and platforms that we shouldn’t need to deliberately disconnect from. Our digital world should not be built with addiction and entrapment in mind, and it shouldn’t be up to individuals to spend so much effort fighting against unhealthy digital products. What we need more than individual actions are system-wide interventions.


Image: Monash University Publishing.

You can purchase Disconnect: Why we get pushed to extremes online and how to stop it is, here.

Jordan Guiao is a Research Fellow at The Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology. His new book Disconnect: Why we get pushed to extremes online and how to stop it is out now through Monash University Publishing.

Feature Image: Canva/Mamamia.

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