Narcissists & Social Media
Social media is huge. Most people use some it in some way. People have friendships online, they meet partners online, they work online or create communities there... it is firmly entrenched in our culture. Because of this, there is a pretty good chance that you're going to run into narcissists online, or that the narcissist in your life uses social media platforms.
Narcissists in many ways love social media. It is a great source of supply, because it's a way for them to live their fantasy life. They can pretend to be anybody they want on social media with no repercussions at all. They never have to show anything bad that is happening, their followers never have to hear the other side of the story. A social media following is truly a captive audience for the narcissist to exploit - and many of them will. Even the ones that don't actively exploit people are generally using and manipulating them for their own reasons.
Now, everybody has different sides of themselves that they show in different situations; you are probably a little different at home than you are work, and it's doubtful most people share things on social media that make them look like a bad person. However, most people are not experiencing a huge disconnect from who they really are vs. who they pretend to be, either on social media or in general. Narcissists generally are. Many times, who they pretend to be online is very, very different from who they actually are.
Predators pretend to be victims. Racists pretend to be culturally sensitive. People who perpetrate domestic violence pretend to be outraged by abuse. It really is the Twilight Zone in a lot of ways, and most of the time they are doing this for validation. It sounds stupid, but likes on social media are a tangible demonstration of validation by other people: "They liked this. That means they like me. It means I'm doing something right and I am a worthwhile person. I'm important because they pressed the 'like' button."
Narcissistic people are often very concerned with the amount of likes, reactions, shares and whatever else they are getting, to the point that they may even have emotional reactions to it. They may become depressed if their follower list becomes smaller, or something gets less likes than something else, etc. In contrast, they may feel over the moon if something gets a large amount of likes or shares. This is indicative of someone who is placing a high emotional value on these things, and that they believe these things mean something more than what they actually do. That's because, as silly as it sounds, these things are a direct line of supply for a narcissistic person. They equal validation and attention, which equal narcissistic supply.
Remember, pathologically narcissistic people cannot create, regulate or sustain their own self-worth. They use this so-called supply from others instead. Generic comments from strangers can provoke very emotional reactions from narcissists and they may become absurdly emotionally attached to people they barely know because of it. They often believe that people are waiting with bated breath for their next move, or that they and their posts are much more important than they really are.
Another reason narcissistic people love social media is because many times, the people on there don't know them. They are not privy to the narcissist's life. They have no idea of what the truth would be in any given situation. This makes them almost perfect sources of supply because they don't know any better. The narcissistic person can tell them anything and they will not challenge it because they have no reason to. This creates a perfect environment for smear campaigns and setting themselves up to be the victim. They can pretend to be anything they want and others will buy into it because they have no reason not to do so. At least, not yet.
You may find that the narcissist in your life seems to value their social media followers over you, or that they spend an inordinate amount of time indulging in the fantasy of social media rather than interacting with the real people in their lives. They may try to create triangulation with the people online by saying those people are better than you, or they may use them as an audience to smear you. In some ways, it's possible they actually do value these people over you because they are strangers. Strangers don't know anything about someone other than what they are told. This is the ideal situation for a pathologically narcissistic person. There is no history here, which means there is no bad history and therefore no shame or negativity. You cannot be that perfect because you know the things the narcissist has done. You were there. You are a reminder that the narcissist is not perfect. That makes you painful and unpleasant to be around. These other people are blank slates.
It might sound odd that someone could value superficial connections online over a marriage or family ties, but it's not uncommon among narcissists. Many don't seem to recognize a difference in depth between these relationships - possibly because for them, there isn't one. It isn't about the depth of the emotion or the length of the relationship. It's about the quality of the supply, and the supply that comes from strangers is better quality than that which comes from people who know them, because the people who know them don't buy into the scam. They know that the narcissist is not who they say they are.
To put it very simply, pathologically narcissistic people would rather be around people who don't know them or what they've done because those people are a lot easier to fool. In the fantasyland of social media, the narcissistic person can truly buy into their own BS because other people are buying into it, too. That is what makes it so attractive.
As far as social media in general, many people have put forth the idea that social media creates narcissism. While that may be a stretch, it is true that narcissistic behavior is very common on the internet in general. For example, it should be no surprise to anyone that studies have found that internet trolls score very high in narcissistic and psychopathic traits. However, is that because they actually possess these traits or because the anonymity of the internet cultivates this kind of behavior?
In the broader sense, the anonymity of social media platforms encourages narcissistic behavior. Not just because of so-called "selfie culture" or virtue signaling or because of validation through likes, but because interaction online dehumanizes people. Social media takes the humanity out of interaction, so that it's just words on a screen. It is far easier to abuse, mistreat or harass people in that situation. Certainly much easier than if they were standing in front of you - and that is for people who are not already narcissists in the first place.
If someone - such as a narcissist, for example - already objectifies people, removing the actual humanity of the person completely by connecting through a screen only makes the dehumanization that much worse because not only is it easy to put it out of their mind, but now any actual consequences have been removed from the equation as well. No one will know what they've done or said. There will be no consequences at all. They can harass, torture, abuse, mistreat and more to their hearts' content, secure in the idea that no one will know, nothing will happen to them as a result and secure in the feeling that they are the only real person in the conversation anyway. It's a very scary thing.
In order to beware of narcissists online, use the same boundaries and tools that you are developing in real life. Does someone overreact to small things? Do they seem too needy? Too controlling? Do they tell fantastical stories that you just don't believe? Are they constantly the victim? Do they seem too good to be true? Do they misunderstand or misconstrue things a lot? Do they say future-faking types of things like, "It'll be better when we're together"? Do they refuse to answer basic questions?
And even if they do none of those things, please remember that, while a lot of great relationships bloom online, it is very easy to hide things and most importantly, there is absolutely no way to know what someone is really like until you are around them in real life.