Is social media ruining your university experience?

From club toilet selfies to that horrible feeling of FOMO, Natasha Preskey wonders whether social media is such a force for good
  • @natashapreskey

Whether it’s adding your new flatmates on Facebook, creating a LinkedIn profile in pre-graduation panic or receiving a disheartening 3/10 on "Rate Your Shag", all students’ experience of university has been affected in some small way by social media.

When information on everything from coursework to club nights is circulated online, being a student without Facebook profile can prove problematic. However, when friends say things like “if a night out isn’t on Facebook, it hasn’t happened” with however much drunken irony, it begs the question whether, rather than making student living easier, social media is actually a barrier to fun.

Of course, there are advantages. Being a click away from your sixth-form buddies is a pretty comforting prospect, especially when you’re homesick or tired of explaining to your bemused flatmates that being from Birmingham doesn’t make you northern (or in my case that, no, I don’t need a passport to return to the Isle of Wight). There is also no denying that Facebook can be an indispensable tool when organising parties, or checking last minute that the word count really was only a thousand words…

But when nights out are often spent dodging the camera or cooped up in the loos taking an endless stream of unflattering selfies, rather than just dancing ourselves into a sweaty heap, then what’s the point? The unspoken pressure to maintain a fun, successful persona online often exacerbates the feelings of loneliness and inadequacy that many students experience when starting university.

Even if you’re having the time of your life, the temptation to compare yourself with people from back home is still present. Friends will sometimes even express concern that someone else from home isn’t enjoying university, “because there isn’t much about it on their Facebook”. This is how great an indicator of happiness and success our online presence is often seen to be. A German study has found that feelings of envy caused by browsing your friends’ Facebook activity were often so damaging that they could “undermine users’ life satisfaction”.

These feelings are easily heightened in an environment full of intelligent, ambitious people who are constantly reminded to sell themselves. Meg Barker,a psychotherapist and Open University lecturer, suggests that social media can help shy students to meet new people, but also raises concerns that the selectively positive nature of self-presentation online can affect students’ self-esteem.

She says: “This can create a false source of comparison for students who might see how well everybody else appears to be doing, and who may judge themselves negatively on the basis of this.

"Don't compare your inside to somebody else's outside: remember that a lot of people only share positive aspects of their experience on social media, but they probably have lots of tough times too.”

That is not to say that total online honesty offers some kind of solution. The potential to ruin our careers before they’ve even begun is great, with studies showing that even images of drinking can spark a negative reaction in employers. A survey conducted by Eurocom Worldwide found that one in five tech firms had rejected a job application because of something on a candidate’s social media profile.

Conversely, there are just as many encouraging tales of graduates winning jobs via social media, and several positive reasons to use it in numerous aspects of student life. Our relationship with social networks is by no means black and white, and logging off permanently is not necessarily a desirable, or viable, solution to the problems that websites such as Facebook can pose.

I am a self-confessed Facebook addict. But just like Sambuca and time spent in the library – you can have too much of a good thing. While the prospect of being separated from my smartphone gives me the shakes, I think what we need is to limit our contact with social media, and pledge to enjoy the best years of our lives first hand, and not from behind a keyboard or camera lens.