When the two-year-old twins I’m babysitting finally go to sleep after hours of sobbing for their parents and I can finally watch Netflix, my usual go-to is “A Cinderella Story” or “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” — nothing as informational as a documentary.
But I can only watch Lena fall for Kostos or Hilary Duff rock a baseball cap so many times, so I was looking for something different this time around. Enter “Social Animals,” which I discovered after scrolling through the recently added tab.
Rotating through the lives of three teens and how the use of Instagram has affected their lives, the 87 minute documentary proved a worthwhile watch despite the occasional cringey selfies and videos hoverboarding they were constantly posting.
The documentary captures the pressures of social media, specifically Instagram, on teens and how it can change not only how others perceive us, but how we perceive ourselves.
Starting in on the life of a typical rich, beautiful blonde, Kaylyn Slevin, we get a glimpse of a life we see and envy on Instagram everyday — a life filled with photoshoots that remind me of a Taylor Swift music video from 2008 and beach vacations, which hit especially hard when you’re stranded 800 miles away from the Pacific Ocean.
It’s easy to become obsessed with the luxurious lifestyle we all crave — trust me, I’d much rather be vacationing in the Bahamas than sitting in school — but in “Social Animals,” we see that Instagram isn’t all about extravagance and carefree lifestyles through the lives of two other teens.
We meet a more contemporary character next: daredevil photographer Humza Deas. His life revolves around building followers on Instagram off of photos he takes illegally climbing to the top of bridges. He starts to gain attention for his work but watches as what brought him success originally — Instagram — nearly ruins his career.
First blamed for replacing an American flag on top of the Brooklyn Bridge bridge with an all-white flag and then for “snitching” on the previously secret subculture of bridge climbers in an interview about the accusation, people began sending him messages like “fame whore” and “sellout.”
His (slightly illegal) adventures of climbing bridges and buildings had me terrified yet wanting to take off to New York City and follow him anywhere. But seeing comments and harassment that followed, I was glad to be nestled in my favorite navy microplush blanket in Prairie Village.
Emma Crockett is another teen girl, but her lifestyle varies different from the others. Living in a small town in the Midwest, her follower count was lower but her life felt even more publicized in her school and community.
When a rumor about her cheating on her boyfriend comes out from her ex-best-friend, the platform she’s used to share her life with her friends became one that they chose to harass her on until she moved schools and took 13 antidepressants in an attempt to kill herself.
I’m used to Instagram being used as a platform of comparison and sharing only how you want the world to view you, but the reality and severity of its effects — considering that it’s all based on real people’s lives — didn’t hit until the end credits were playing and I was sitting in the kitchen with tears falling down my face.
In an age where how you feel about yourself can be determined by a number of likes on a picture or your follower count, it’s important to look outside the “world” of Instagram and see that how you treat people matters.
When an app we’re supposed to use for entertainment can lead to people so broken down they think the only way out is suicide, it’s pretty clear that something is wrong. These are real people like Emma living through a daily torture of thinking they have a lower self-worth because of what someone comments on their latest post.
I could see that Instagram can, in some cases, build your confidence and career as shown through Kaylyn’s life, but I’m not going to lie and say that I don’t compare myself to the enhanced lives of those posing in the posts for their five million followers. So for the most of us, it’s easier to relate to Emma.
Pulling out my phone after watching the documentary, I held down on the Instagram app and pressed delete. I haven’t used it since. It may only have been a week without it so far, but my screen time is already down 23 percent.
So I guess next time I’m looking for a post-babysitting or Sunday afternoon show, I’ll give the documentary list a try.
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