collage of superstitious imagery including fortune cookies, zodiac dice, tea leaves
Opinion

Internet superstition: confessions of a realist who saves IG posts for good luck

Are ‘like for good luck’ posts an evolution of the chain mail that circulated on platforms such as Hotmail and MSN during the early years of the internet, or does this trend say more about our collective state of mind after such a stressful few years?

As much as I love being creative and listening to my emotions, I’ve always been a realist at heart. It’s just the way my mind works – while I enjoy ‘dreaming big’ and coming up with new ideas, I tend to harbour scepticism towards anything that’s not based in fact. 

But despite all of this, there is a very small part of me that wants to believe. I don’t have a big collection of crystals, and you won’t find me reading my horoscope on a daily basis. But I do have one element of non-realism I find myself indulging in more often than I’d like to admit: engaging with superstitious posts on social media. 

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Whether I’m liking Instagram reels promising me health and success or listening to TikTok videos which promise to make my dreams come true, there’s something about these posts which keeps on drawing me in, even though I know nothing’s going to happen. 

It’s not like I seek them out – they tend to pop up as ‘suggested posts’ in my feed – but nevertheless, I find it hard to scroll past one without giving it a quick tap. And I’m not the only one who finds these posts so tempting. On Instagram, posts on some of the biggest ‘law of attraction’ and ‘manifestation’ accounts regularly rack up tens of thousands of likes, and on TikTok, the hashtag #manifestationsound has had over nine million views. 

Of course, I know part of the popularity of these posts is to do with their nature – by prompting people to engage in return for a reward, it’s inevitable that these posts are going to receive more interaction than your typical upload. But what else is it about these types of uploads that make them so appealing? And where did this trend come from? 

Annie Corser is a social media expert and insights editor at the behavioural insights organisation Canvas8. While she believes these ‘like for good luck’ posts are an evolution of the chain mail that circulated on platforms such as Hotmail and MSN during the early years of the internet, she also sees a clear link between this and the appetite for virality platforms like TikTok have brought about.

“On some level, especially among Gen Z, these trends are about the power of the herd – about gaining views and people returning to your page,” she says. “TikTok specifically is no longer just a place on which to reach the heady heights of a high follower count – it is now somewhere to make money, to build a lifestyle and a career. This has only increased the cache of going viral on the app, and ingenious Gen Zers have begun pulling out simple – but effective – tricks to manipulate their posts towards virality. Very often, the manifestation videos fall under this model.” 

This model, Corser explains, is identifiable by a number of factors. The use of a specific sound, for example, can amplify someone’s post, and creating short videos with overlaid text can be a clever way to manipulate the algorithm. But social media isn’t all about business – and Corser believes there is some legitimacy in the content that’s being created. 

“The platforms we use now, especially TikTok, are part of an ecosystem of shareability and virality that give genuine dynamism to these messages,” Corser explains. “When a video like this arrives on your For You page, it’s a sign not only that enough people before you have liked this content, but that the algorithm has destined you to receive it. There’s a sense of potential there, especially in light of the fact that manifestation has moved into pop cultural cognisance.” 

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I think it’s this sense of coincidence that social media algorithms create that makes these kinds of posts so tempting. While I’m not one to go out searching for manifestation tips or signs from the universe, having such a positive message served directly to me feels almost too good to be true. As such, it begins to feel personal – and while these posts may not have the same threatening aura as early 2000s chain mail (I hate to think about the number of times I was cursed with seven years of bad luck for not forwarding a message), the fear of missing out on an opportunity to gain success, luck or money makes not engaging feel like a bad idea.

Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, agrees. “Engaging in these kinds of trends can give us a sense of hope and feeling of control over our future,” she explains. “Getting involved in these social media trends feeds into this sense of belonging and wanting to be seen, and there can also be the sense that if we don’t take part, we risk losing something significant. Even if we don’t necessarily believe in the concept, what we stand to (potentially) gain by taking part outweighs what we would stand to lose if we didn’t.” 

The timing of this trend also feels interesting in light of the chaotic financial and political situation many countries across the world are currently facing. 

While the idea of instant success is always going to be tempting, it’s even more appealing at a time when the cost-of-living crisis has left us all watching our bank balance. Our lack of control over the current situation could also be a motivator; when everything else feels all over the place, being able to control what happens next is a particularly comforting concept.

The surge in interest in manifestation back at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 is a prime example of this, says Esther McCann, a manifestation coach who works with clients to help them bring success, love and fulfilment into their lives using the law of attraction. While she acknowledges that trying to bring about change from a place of need can lead to unhealthy behaviour, she believes that trends like these are a great way to get more people interested in spirituality, even if liking a post on social media is a very simplified version of the manifestation she teaches. 

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“Manifestation can become an unhealthy thing, but it can also be absolutely wonderful,” McCann explains. “I think it comes down to the individual – we manifest what we believe is possible, so if you believe that something could come true, I think posts like this are a really good gateway to manifesting more things. I also think it’s a way for people to find hope in times that feel quite bleak – and that’s a really good thing, especially for the younger generation, because it opens them up to the idea that there are still loads of possibilities.”

While I’m still not sure whether I buy into manifestation as a concept, the idea of being able to take control of my future at a time when the world seems to be falling apart does seem pretty appealing – and could explain why more of these posts have been making their way to my feed recently. Even if these kinds of posts don’t work for everyone, having a little hope is never a bad thing. Liking a post on Instagram may not have the power to change my life – but if it’s going to help me feel more in control for a moment, then who am I to deny myself a bit of a break? 

Image: Getty

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