Micro-blogging site Twitter – notorious for the swiftness with which it bans conservatives, while leaving liberal accounts up despite multiple violations of the site’s Terms of Service – announced a new feature this week. The only social networking site less politically biased than Facebook has announced that, henceforth, users may “retweet” their own tweets.
“This is how to retweet yourself on Twitter, as of today,” writes Abby Ohlheiser. “Go to one of your own tweets, click the little loopy ‘retweet’ button, choose whether to quote yourself or simply retweet your own tweet back into the timeline of your followers, and watch the magic happen. But should you? Something about retweeting your own tweet feels like becoming that person at the bar who repeats the punch line of a joke two or three times if the first laugh was unsatisfactory.”
Ohlheiser goes on to say that the Internet “is full of ways to talk about and represent yourself, but rarely friendly to new ways to do it, even teeny tiny iterative ones. When ‘selfies’ were still emerging, the reaction was incredulous. Why would people take pictures of themselves and share them? Now we have official selfie stick policies for many public spaces. The self-retweet will hardly change the way the Internet looks to the same degree the selfie did, but it sure will make it easier for people to re-insert themselves into a timeline that is, more and more, becoming unstuck in time.”
As repugnant as even the word “selfie” happens to be, Ohlheiser rightly points out that the self-retweet feature is everything that is wrong with self-obsessed Internet culture. She also grossly underestimates just how wildly popular this feature is going to be. Social media is nothing if not an echo chamber for smug narcissists, convinced of their own brilliance and blind to their many hypocrisies. No social media site will ever go broke underestimating its users desires to hear themselves talk.
Just last month, Chuck Bednar reported that taking selfies, according to a new study, could make you – wait for it – act like a narcissistic jerk. (Well, duh, Chuck.) Bednar cites the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science in sharing a study from the University of Toronto. “[Researchers] interviewed 198 college students, 100 of whom said that they regularly took selfies and 98 of whom said that they rarely or never used a phone or other mobile device to take pictures of themselves,” Bednar writes. “Study participants were asked to take one selfie using a smartphone camera, and also had their photo taken by one of the researchers. Each of the images were rated by the students themselves and by an independent third party, and while both the selfie takers and the non-selfie takers tended to rate themselves higher in terms of attractiveness and likability than the third-party raters, the authors found that regular selfie-takers overestimated themselves significantly more and were judged to be more vain.”
Bednar goes on to explain that “regularly snapping photos of yourself could increase your susceptibility to self-favoring bias, causing you to unwittingly overestimate how attractive your photos are over the course of time. This effect, the researchers explained, may be due to positive feedback received over social media, or the use of strategies to take flattering photos.”
Such self-flattery is not limited to photographs, either. Narcissists on social media become adept at manipulating their images to create a much more attractive picture of their lives as people. It is this manipulation that lies at the heart of the depression social media can create in users who feel they are being left out and left behind. Last year, Alice Walton cited the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology in reporting on a study of “Facebook and depressive symptoms.” The problem, she explains, is one of “social comparison.”
“That is,” writes Walton, “making comparisons, often between our most humdrum moments and our friends’ ‘highlight reels’ – the vacation montages and cute baby pics – is what links Facebook time and depressive symptoms together. So is it time to cut down on Facebook? Maybe. Or maybe we should just adjust our attitude toward it. In the  study from University of Houston … researchers queried people about their Facebook use, how likely they were to make social comparisons (e.g., ‘I always pay a lot of attention to how I do things compared with how others do things’), and how often they experienced depressive symptoms. It turned out that people who used Facebook more tended to have more depressive symptoms. … It turned out that people who logged more Facebook time not only had more depressive symptoms, but that social comparison – in any direction – was the mediator, and for both sexes. In other words, it didn’t matter whether a person was making upward, downward, or neutral social comparison – they were all linked to a greater likelihood for depressive symptoms.”
To make matters worse, all this narcissism is making us easier targets for hackers. ZDNet’s Danny Palmer reported last week that “flattery is the latest tool in the cybercriminal arsenal – and everyone from millennials to CEOs is falling for it.” He explains that hackers are increasingly turning to social engineering to pry password and personal data from self-absorbed users. By flattering their targets, especially those who display narcissistic traits, hackers can befriend and manipulate their victims using fake profiles. They know that every additional follower or contact is, to the narcissist, irresistible, and thus their fake profiles will not be extensively vetted. Neither, then, will their flattery be seen for the social engineering that it is; their victims are just happy to be adored (and told about it).
As our society continues to slide into self-absorbed, self-obsessed narcissism, we will continue to suffer for it. The prevalence of these traits online is not the cause, nor is social media the symptom. Our social media accounts are nothing more than a reflection of the blight on our souls – a mirror held up to the vanity running rampant in the modern world. That vanity may yet destroy us … but at least we’ll have plenty of pictures of society’s collapse.
Media wishing to interview Phil Elmore, please contact [email protected].