Do you follow someone on social media with a picture-perfect lifestyle, but you suspect that they’re just faking it? Me, too. I hear people complaining about social media fakers all the time. Many are frustrated about how ordinary people in their feeds are simply trying too hard. It used to be lifestyle bloggers putting on a [...]

by JERRY SILFWER aka Doctor Spin
Expert in corporate communications and online persuasion

Do you follow someone on social media with a picture-perfect lifestyle, but you suspect that they’re just faking it?

Me, too.

I hear people complaining about social media fakers all the time. Many are frustrated about how ordinary people in their feeds are simply trying too hard. It used to be lifestyle bloggers putting on a dazzling show for their followers, but now it’s your neighbour, your co-worker and your old classmate.

“If you experience negative emotions, just unfollow them,” I say.

But it’s often not that simple in the economy of likes where you can’t separate your online network from your physical world. Unfollowing someone, blocking someone — even stopping to like a friend’s status updates on Instagram, well, that’s something that many posters take personally.

We get pulled into this world of the social media fakers. So we ask ourselves:

How did we end up here? And how do we get out of it?

The Robinson Effect: How the Mainstream Finds it Difficult to Properly Decode New Formats

expedition-robinson-1In 1997, the Swedish public service broadcasters SVT1 launched Expedition Robinson, the reality tv show spun off the British tv format Survive.

A group of chosen non-celebs were to participate in a contest set on a Malaysian island in which people got voted off, one after the other, until one winner could claim the title of winning the whole season.

Expedition Robinson was bound to be a success. The Swedish mainstream audience devoured it. Partly because of the palm trees, the beaches and the fact that ordinary people were running around half-naked with low blood sugar. Expedition Robinson was addictive.

We also saw a new type of love- and hate relationships with these new reality stars. People genuinely loved their favourite characters just as much as they hated some of the most original ones.

The public engagement caused serious trouble for some of the reality stars who hadn’t succeeded in becoming loved2. They found it difficult to cope with being publicly hated and so they publicly lashed out against the production company, all asking a fascinating question:

“I’m a human being with many sides. Why did you portray me as a monster?”

The participants of those early reality shows failed to understand the new format’s drama and without this understanding, they felt victimised.

The New Breed of Reality Show Stars

kardashianFast forward to 2016:

Today, reality stars understand how to play the game. They want to be edited as dramatic as possible.

The new breed of reality stars understands that they must deliver drama and that the format doesn’t exist to serve their multi-faceted need for human expression. They’re just in it to put on a show and to kickstart their careers, their name recognition and their online following.

In Sweden, we turn to popular reality shows like Paradise Hotel, in which participants quickly acquire huge social media followings and tons of tabloid attention — because they put on a show. Internationally, the Kardashian family must be considered the reigning masters of massive social media spin doctoring and engagement.

What happened during those 19 years between 1997 and 2016? Both the audience and the participants eventually came to terms with the inherent media logic of reality shows. It follows the principles as outlined in the law of diffusion of innovations:


It took 5-10 years for the mainstream audience to understand reality television, and it took the mainstream audience 5-10 years to understand social media as a format.

Where does this leave us?

The New Divide: Self Promoters vs. Co-Creators

It’s nothing wrong with only showing one side of something. In fact, most mediums aren’t very well suited for more complex forms of communication, especially if likes and shares are what drives them. If you want to show off the parts of your life that are beautiful and picture perfect, then by all means — go ahead and do so as long as it makes you happier. We must all adapt to a medium’s format if we’re expecting to cut through all the noise.

But here’s where the new media logic turns into a real problem:

Social fakeness causes stress and frustration for both the content creator as well as for the follower.

It’s a vicious cycle. You may paint a picture perfect lifestyle on Instagram, but most people understand that you’re only putting on a show. Putting on a show to get more likes tend to say more about the content creator than the depicted lifestyle does3.

We start asking questions like:

  • “Why is this person trying so desperately to paint this picture of a perfect life?”
  • “What is this person compensating for?”

People desperately seeking attention and validation through social media are at risk of becoming victimised. Instead of becoming an elite class, the mainstream increasingly frowns at their desperation for likes and shares, placing them at the bottom of status ladder4.

It’s possible that we will see a new divide emerge between people, where we on one hand will have a generation of social media fakers desperately screaming for approval, literally trying to keep up with the Kardashians — and on the other hand, we’ll have a class of creators, who are focusing their time and resources, not on shameless self-promotion, but on making stuff and creating real value, either for themselves or together with other like-minded doers.

The key takeaway for this post:

Don’t just use social media to put on your own personal reality show where you tell people how great you are and how awesome your life is. Do stuff, be creative and add real value to other people’s lives and businesses — and you’ll earn the loyal and loving online following you deserve.

What’s your take on social media fakers? Let me know in the comments!

Update: Okay, so you know that feeling when you’ve crafted a text and a few days later you stumble on another that that says sort of what you said, only 1,000% better? Well, the amazing blog Wait But Why has done it again. Now I’m going to focus on learning how to write better blog posts. Here you’ll find the post (make sure to compare the concept of social media fakers with Facebook image crafting):

Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy


  1. Why did a public service broadcaster like SVT decide to finance a reality show? To this day, it’s mostly unclear. SVT get their funding from anyone in Sweden owning a tv, radio or a computer. Should they spend people’s license money on entertainment?
  2. The situation got even worse as the first person voted off the show committed suicide tragically, forcing SVT and the production company to re-cut the rest of the programs to lessen the drama.
  3. There have been many conversations lately about the “fakeness” of social media, and one recent talking point is how Essena O’Neill, a young Australian Instagram influencer, publicly ranted about her (and basically everybody else’s) fakeness in social media. She “quit social media” and deleted both her Instagram and her Youtube account — only to use the attention to launch her next online enterprise.
  4. Author Neil Strauss wrote in Wall Street Journal: “A status update with no likes (or a clever tweet that without retweets) becomes the equivalent of a joke met with silence. It must be rethought and rewritten. And so we don’t show our true selves online, but a mask designed to conform to the opinions of those around us.”


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Jerry Silfwer is the author of Doctor Spin, a PR blog that's been around for 15+ years. Via his agency Spin Factory, Jerry is advising brands on how to adapt to a 'digital first' world. In 2016, Cision Scandinavia named him "PR Influencer of the Year". Jerry lives in Stockholm, Sweden with his wife Lisah, news anchor and television host, and their three-year-old son, Jack.



Great post, Jerry! I love how social media can bring us together. It’s a great opportunity to be real. At the same time, the truth is that the world teaches us to be “fake,” and this approach is starting to break. Ahh, the tricky balance between vulnerability and strength – it’s truly an art form. I think it’s something we should openly discuss more, and I love how you covered it in this article. Happy 2016! :)

Doctor Spin

Great input Jessica — and thanks for leaving a comment. You’re feeding directly into my desperate search for qualitative reactions on my thoughts and ideas, haha!

Seriously though, it sure is a balance. I find myself deleting Instagram pictures that I find isn’t adding to the overall feeling of “a nice life”, It does feel like a balance between strength and vulnerability, but also a balance between authenticity and image. Which is, I think, when transferred to business settings very interesting as well.


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