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If you ever have any questions as to how social media can distort reality, then look no further than a recent story about a 25 year-old Dutch graphic design student, Zilla van den Born. For five weeks, Zilla posted on her Facebook page to friends and family about a study abroad trip she was taking throughout Southeast Asia. The catch, however? Zilla never left her native Amsterdam. She put up an elaborate ruse to convince those she was talking to that she was in Southeast Asia, through such tricks as photoshop, clever illusions and well thought-out stories. The only person who knew the secret was her boyfriend, who was in on the secret from the get-go.
On her Facebook page, Zilla posted photos of herself doing things you would expect a student to do while studying abroad in Southeast Asia. In one photo she posted, Zilla can be seen eating a dumpling with some chopsticks. In another, she’s sitting in a Buddhist temple alongside a monk. Both of these photos were taken at local stops in her native Amsterdam. In other instances, Zilla posted pictures that she had photoshopped; one shows her snorkelling with fish in the background. She had taken the photo at the pool in her apartment complex, and added the fish in afterwards. For going on Skype calls with her family, Zilla redesigned her bedroom with some old Christmas lights and an umbrella to look like an Oriental hotel room, and would call at odd hours to keep up the illusion that she was operating in a different time zone.
At the end of five weeks, Zilla revealed to her friends and family that the whole thing was a giant prank, and then filmed everybody’s reactions. None of them expected this, and they were shocked at the realization. However, the young Dutch woman’s experiment wasn’t just a part of some elaborate prank conducted by a sociopath. Rather, it was an assignment her professor had given her about how easy it was to create a fake persona on social media. In speaking with local news sources in Amsterdam, Zilla said that she did this to show how people filter and manipulate what we show on social media, a world that often isn’t very steeped in reality. The reason that so many people are insecure is that they compare their own personal darkest moments with the highlights that other people put up as a facade. A lot of times, when you look at what your Facebook friends post online, it can be very easy to get jealous, or feel inadequate compared to them. The story of Zilla serves as a reminder that things we see on the Internet aren’t always what they seem.