When our online lives are online lies

In the last week, espnW’s profile of Madison Holleran, a University of Pennsylvania student who killed herself a year and half ago, has gotten plenty of deserved attention.

She was, if you believe her Instagram account, a popular and happy 19 year old.

But she wasn’t.

No image captures the paradoxes of Madison’s Instagram account more than the one she posted just an hour before jumping off the parking garage. Holiday lights are twinkling in the trees of Rittenhouse Square, and Madison put a filter on the image that produced an ethereal quality, almost as if the night is underwater.

She seemed acutely aware that the life she was curating online was distinctly different from the one she was actually living. Yet she could not apply that same logic when she looked at the projected lives of others. Before going home for winter break, she asked Ingrid, who was also struggling at Penn, “What are you going to say when you go home to all your friends? I feel like all my friends are having so much fun at school.”

She and Ashley Montgomery, a friend and track teammate, followed a group of Penn upperclassmen on Instagram. They would scroll through pictures and say to each other, “This is what college is supposed to be like; this is what we want our life to be like.”

It’s a pretty important message that espnW doesn’t make strongly enough. The online lives we compare ours to are lies.

We might feel we cannot measure up to the perfection and happiness we see there, because nobody can. Those lives aren’t real.

Her father has a mission now, according to espnW: “It’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to show people you’re not OK.”

In the week since the article first appeared, there has been a steady stream of helpful feedback about asking for help. But at the same time, there has been relatively little introspection about our reluctance to show our true selves online and what the impact of that deprivation has on people.

The reality is it’s not OK to show people online you’re not OK. The missing discussion is how are we to change that fact?