The Highlight Reel Effect Is Chipping Away at Human Authenticity

Instagram is often referred to as a “highlight reel,” alluding to the one-sidedness found within most accounts. Posts will most likely be self-enhancing and happy — there is little suffering portrayed on Instagram. With the creation of Instagram, people can now self-advertise, advertise a product, a company, a friend, a relative. Anyone can advertise anything and/or anyone. There is immense power in this ability that is constantly disregarded with each additional post.

The Effect of Self-Exploitation

Upon reflecting on my obsession with a tiny app on my phone, I became disgusted by how much time I spent looking into people. And by the people I looked into. I found precious, tiny crumbs of happy memories. Memories that I felt should have been only for the individual who had posted them. Journalist Zach Morgan defines the effect eloquently: when “given a platform, people will almost always opt to represent themselves, their lives, and their experiences in the best light possible — a ‘highlight reel,’ so to speak. ” It seems that Instagram users, to generalize, have self-imposed the highlight reel effect onto themselves — they have made it a self-imposed obligation to post one-sided, usually positive moments; whereby, a certain degree of self-exploitation ensues that in turn erodes on one’s interpersonally perceived authenticity.

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With social media serving as a primary force for social connection, the boundary between authenticity and conformity becomes difficult to navigate.

I carry a baseline amount of respect for all individuals around me — in real life and online. And on Instagram, I feel like I am being forced to disrespect individuals’ privacy because they are falling down the rabbit hole that is the highlight reel and exposing tiny to large bits of themselves, of a unique life — to me. A complete stranger, an acquaintance, a friend’s friend, that girl in that class of mine, or whatever insignificant role I play in their life. My fellow Instagram users have exposed themselves to such an extent that I begin to forget that they are their own person. An anonymous sophomore mentioned, “I just can’t see and acknowledge people as individuals after a while.” I start judging based on a one-sided photo collection of a being. And just like that, the user is rendered inauthentic.

[G]iven a platform, people will almost always opt to represent themselves, their lives, and their experiences in the best light possible — a “highlight reel,” so to speak. 



As I wait for my bus to come, I pull out my phone. I open up my Instagram account, stare sadly at my following, and proceed to check an old friend’s VSCO. At the end of twenty minutes, I have looked into several accounts and VSCOs. I feel hopeless after having compared myself to several people. Once the self-imposed highlight reel effect is complete, the surrounding viewers are affected. This growing bundle of envy rears it’s ugly, green head –whether it be within oneself or in a heated gossip session with friends, it is there. An anonymous upperclassmen mentioned, “VSCO makes everyone look the same…fit one aesthetic.” After self-obligating, and self-exploiting, the majority of Instagram users are self-comparing and self-deprecating. One may be left feeling completely alone in their supposed aesthetic faults.

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It is easy to get caught up in the vast, interconnected web of likes and comments, and end up judging oneself.

But what is authenticity?

My opinion may seem immoderate; Instagram is one thing, one platform, on which one’s personality and life is shared. There are, of course, other mediums by which to share. Normal conversation with an acquaintance, deep conversation with a friend, a reunion with an old friend, talking to one of your parents. The list goes on, and with each different method of sharing, an individual is likely to share varying depths of information on themselves. No one wants to get too personal with certain figures in their lives — such as a boss, or an extended family member. Instagram is simply another way to share — so it makes sense that this sharing will be selective. Therefore, perhaps the methods to achieve authenticity need to diversify. Maybe the strive to happiness should be refined to a type of happiness that does not require that Instagram profile or VSCO profile to be perfect and polished. Because, when looking though Instagram posts with a new template for achieving authenticity — it becomes unclear which posts are authentic and which are inauthentic. Maybe all posts are neither. Rather than trying to shape oneself, maybe compulsive posting results from trying to shape one’s aura.

Below are Instagram posts from certain figures who stood out to me as I searched for authenticity on Instagram. I went in with no expectations, and found that none could be marked “authentic” or “inauthentic” or anything in between. These posts and the lives captured within were just posts. Suddenly and beautifully, they simply….existed. All judgement vanished.

The saying “make love, not war” is applicable to Instagram’s environment. Instead of judging, a new state of mind — one of love and appreciation for the human experience could simplify things and lift a heavy weight off of the shoulders of those who continue to self-impose negative Instagram practices. If someone looks like they are simply seeking attention due to their insecurities, accept this and wish them the best. And then, move on.

The Future of Authenticity

The future of authenticity in a social-media-heavy world remains unclear. There are positives and negatives to Instagram culture in relation to the matter; it allows for easy access to photo collections that encompass that right, comfortable atmosphere — but the self-imposed pressure placed on individuals to post generally positive, self-enhancing photos will continue to reveal a damaged authenticity; however, this mindset, whether it be the viewer’s or the poster’s is counterproductive to humanity. Work towards a happy state of mind that does not rely on social media. Instagram — and any other online presence, is not what makes us human. I am left contemplating now, on what does.

Author: Ishnaan Kaur

Ishnaan Kaur is currently a sophomore and this is her first year working for The Eye. She has been living in Singapore for one year, and prior to that she was living in Maryland. Her interests include politics, music, reading, writing (especially essays), and socratic seminars. Ishnaan hopes to pursue a career in the communications field. She can be contacted at

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