Social Media On Screen

How is Social Media Use Depicted on the Big Screen?

How is Social Media Use Depicted on the Big Screen? By Frankie Wallace.

Few things define the modern era quite so well as social media. Companies like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and even newer contenders like Box.net clutter the social media landscape, providing a way for everyone to interact, escape, chat … and post an endless stream of photos of their pets and food.

But how does the reality of social media make its way onto the big screen? Do movies accurately depict this complex, convoluted world in a way that is in any way reminiscent of the reality? The answer, as might be expected, is all over the board, with some films showing very accurate representations, others going far afield with fictitious, hardly plausible scenarios, and still others coming to quite possible but highly unlikely conclusions. 



Here’s a brief breakdown of how Hollywood is handling the social media world.

Let’s Get Real

Right off the bat, it’s worth taking some time to look at some of the more realistic representations out there. Screenwriters and directors often love a deep, emotional, realistic take on a subject, and social media has provided the perfect canvas for several such movies to pop up over the last decade.

Jon Favreau’s ‘Chef,’ for instance, while technically a culinary-focused story, revolves around a botched tweet sent in anger by a chef after receiving a negative review from a popular critic. While the event helps to move the plot forward, it also serves as a not-so-subtle reminder of the dangers of hitting “send” when all the world can see what you’re posting.

The 2010 documentary film ‘Catfish’ is another movie that takes a deep dive into the darker side of life online — particularly the fact that you can never be sure who it is that you’re actually talking to on the other end of your internet connection. The movie traces an online relationship that, while not horrifying or deadly, ultimately proves to be filled with countless lies and deception, a feeling that many social media users are far too familiar with. 

And then there’s the 2018 comedy-drama ‘Eighth Grade’. This one’s a bit of a social media double whammy. On the one hand, it takes a close look at eighth-grader Elsie Fisher, whose life largely revolves around social media, especially her vlog. In addition to the subject matter, though, the film is the directorial debut of Bo Burnham, the stand-up comic that fittingly got his start on Youtube. Not only does the movie tackle the concept of social media in life, but it is literally written and directed by a product of the social media world itself.

Fiction and Abuse

While many movies focus on realistic takes, often social media ends up appearing in films as a sort of “real life boogeyman,” and with good reason, too. The potential for the rampant abuse of social networks is a well-documented phenomenon. For instance, it’s estimated that as many as 30% of divorces originate on Facebook, while the obvious threats of lying, abduction, etc. have been around for years. The potential for conflict, abuse, and violence is very real. But enough exposition, what are the movies saying about it?

Cyberbullying between students has been drawing more and more attention in recent years. It’s a subject that the 2010 drama thriller ‘Trust’ addresses as it follows the relationship between a teenage girl and an online abuser who meet in a chat room. The movie provides an uncomfortable take on the darker side of cyberbullying and emotional manipulation, showcasing just how easily vulnerable souls can be deceived and manipulated through the online world.

The 2013 drama thriller ‘Uwantme2killhim?’ also provides a discomforting take on the subject. It demonstrates how far online deception and lies can go in inducing not just emotions and fake relationships, but even straight up violence and misguided revenge.

While not “Hollywood” proper, another stellar representation of the effects of social media can be found in the highly lauded Netflix’s offbeat sci-fi thriller series, ‘Black Mirror’. The episode ‘Nosedive’ follows a woman living in a world where your online reputation is everything, and we mean everything. Bad scores can quickly spiral into the loss of prestige, friends, and social status, and even very real things like what kind of home you’re allowed to purchase. The final scene, where two characters oddly but lovingly belt out profanities at each other between jail cells as they vent their final freedom from the bonds of social media is absolutely profound.

Less profound, but still worth mentioning, is the way that social media and the internet, in general, have found their way into the horror genre. The 2015 film ‘Unfriended’, for instance, follows a paranormal entity that is kick started by a Skype group. Going even further back, the 2001 Japanese thriller ‘Pulse’ immediately puts its finger on, well, the pulse of how terrifying the concept of the internet could truly be.

Learning From Hollywood

There’s no doubt that Hollywood has had its fair share of takes on the social media issue. From horror and violence to melodramatic middle schoolers and everything in between, the modern phenomena has been thoroughly addressed at this point. Perhaps the biggest takeaway should simply be the fact that we should take some advice from those brave few that still avoid using the internet by occasionally taking a break from social media ourselves, along with all of the emotional turmoil that it creates in our lives.


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