It’s interesting to think that if Tina Fey’s Mean Girls was made today, rather than ten years ago, it would be a very different movie.
While our obsession with where people stand in the social hierarchy hasn’t changed, the complex politics of friendship are now being played out online, and it’s #fascinating.
Interactions between girls are strengthened and challenged in social media environments, with Instagram providing a particularly nuanced view into the social lives of teenage girls.
When a young girl posts a photo to Instagram (which is often a highly-curated selfie) the corresponding comments are likely to read:
“Oh my GOD”.
“What even? You’re perfect. I hate you”.
These complimentary comments are often met with equally bizarre responses.
“No you are!”
“Are you looking in the mirror?”
Most of us simply roll our eyes and concede that we no longer understand what ‘kids these days’ are talking about.
But last week, on the popular podcast This American Life, three teenage girls were given a platform to explain why they are constantly (and rather aggressively) telling their friends they are beautiful on Instagram.
Fourteen year old Ella explained “It’s definitely a social obligation, because you want to let them know, and also let other people know, that I have a close relationship with this person. So close that I can comment on their pictures, like, ‘this is so cute’, or, ‘you look so great here.'”
To these girls, Instagram represents a complex social map that is constantly changing in front of them.
Jane continues, “You would comment on someone’s photo who you’re not really super close with or that you don’t know really well. And it’s sort of a statement, like, I want to be friends with you, or I want to get to know you, or like, I think you’re cool.”
In the past, our social world was harder to navigate. The politics of female friendship, in terms of who’s up and who’s down and who’s close to who was important, but it was far less obvious. Now, social media apps like Instagram provide a real-time diagram of where everybody stands with everybody else.
Popularity has been quantified. It’s numerically evident by the number of likes that accompany a selfie, and the comments give an even richer insight into where people stand within the social hierarchy.
So what happens when your selfie doesn’t get the response you expected? “You definitely feel insecure”, says Ella. “Because, like, you expect them to comment, and they don’t, and you’re like, why?”