Lying on Social Media May Damage Your Memories

Are you truly who you say you are online?. Warhol Photobooth [CC by 2.0]/Flickr

Have you ever made your life look a little more glamorous than it actually is by posting partial truths on social media? If so, you may be altering your own memories and even damaging your mental health.

The posts we make on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media platforms create an online scrapbook of our lives, allowing us to look back and see what we did on a given day. But what happens when, in an effort to impress our online friends, the status updates, photos and videos we post become embellished versions of the things we did?

You could go out to a romantic anniversary dinner with your significant other, have a near relationship-ending fight during dessert, then come home and post, “Had the best time out with the love of my life! #togetherforever” — perhaps with a photo of the meal to really sell the story.

No surprise, but according to a new study, this happens. Two-thirds of users admit to lying about their lives on social media with 20 percent of young people between the ages of 18 and 24 stating that they edit their own narratives by frequently fibbing about relationships, promotions and vacations.

By revising our online autobiographies, we are giving ourselves “digital amnesia,” say psychologists. We start believing the stories we tell rather than remembering what really happened. Soon, the real experience is lost and all that remains is the revised version of history.

“Being competitive and wanting to put our best face forward — seeking support or empathy from our peers — is entirely understandable,”says psychologist Dr. Richard Sherry, a founding member of the Society for Neuropsychoanalysis.

"However, the dark side of this social conformity is when we deeply lose ourselves or negate what authentically and compassionately feels to be 'us'; to the degree that we no longer recognise the experience, our voice, the memory or even the view of ourselves. When this starts to happen, feelings of guilt and distaste towards ourselves can create a cognitive trap of alienation and possibly even a sense of disconnection and paranoia.”

Sherry fears that these edited narratives will end up changing our memories. He explains, “The ability to transform fantasy to reality may seem exclusive to science fiction, but many studies have demonstrated that even the simple act of imagining a childhood event increases a person's confidence that the event happened to them in the past, and it is known that even the phrasing of a narrative can shape how we later remember it.”

It’s well documented through research that our own memories are often unreliable and can be easily manipulated. Writing down one’s life in the form of a journal, or even on social media can help us keep our memories intact, but only if we tell the truth.

"So recording our experiences through whatever medium, to later reminisce or revisit lessons we learned, is not only acceptable but desirable. In fact, looking back at our own past - however embarrassing or uncomfortable - is not just healthy but can be enjoyable,” says Sherry.

The study was commissioned by Pencourage, an anonymous journal site that allows users to chronicle their lives.