A selection of perfect-looking Instagram images seemingly offered for sale by 'Life Faker'Sanctus

Would you buy photos to fake the perfect life on Instagram?

A site offering to sell ready-made Instagram photos has just popped up - but it's not what it seems

Ashitha Nagesh

Scroll through social media and you’ll see endless photos of people's seemingly perfect lives.

Exotic holidays, ripped bodies and impossibly well-decorated homes fill our feeds day after day. It makes us wonder, how has everyone else figured it out? 

It gets harder and harder to keep up, and that in turn, is really getting us down. A study from the Royal Society of Public Health last year linked social media to increased rates of anxiety, depression and poor sleep.

Shockingly, it also quoted research suggesting that as many as nine out of 10 girls in their teens had body image issues, and that this was made worse by people’s seemingly perfect workout selfies.

So at first glance, a site called Life Faker, which sells packages of ready-made photos that people can pass off as shots from their actual lives, seems like another cog in the machine of social media overload. 

The My Unachievable Body PackageSanctus

The site offers packages of stock photos with envy-inducing titles such as "Look At My Holiday And Cry”, “My Sexy Girlfriend/Boyfriend” and “My Unbelievable Body”. All you need to do is click to buy your chosen package.

But there's a clever catch. That click-through gets you a pop-up telling you about the links between social media and mental health problems.

“Ever felt the pressure of social media?" Life Faker questions, before revealing: "You’re not alone. 62% of people feel inadequate comparing their lives to others’ online.”

This is the message that pops upSanctus

A London-based startup launched the spoof site to expose how it believes social media is playing havoc with our mental health and self-esteem.

“We wanted to highlight some of our unhealthy behaviour on social media and how it affects our mental health,” Sanctus co-founder George Bettany tells BBC Three. George says he and his co-founder, James, started the site after trying to hide their own anxiety that had built up over three years while working on a previous business.

"Although we were both feeling the same way, we just weren't talking about it," George adds. "We eventually had to confront what we were feeling and be open about it. Now we're trying to remove the stigma from talking about mental health."

Some people have fallen for Life Faker on first glance, reacting to the idea before seeing the warning behind the site.

Others, who have clicked through and seen the site's mental-health message, are full of praise.

“Seeing friends constantly on holiday or enjoying nights out can make young people feel like they are missing out while others enjoy life,” the RSPH says in its report, adding that this breeds a “compare and despair” attitude.

“The unrealistic expectations set by social media may leave young people with feelings of self-consciousness, low self-esteem and the pursuit of perfectionism which can manifest as anxiety disorders.”

Instagram was found to be the worst site for our mental health (which George believes is because it's "image-based"), followed by Snapchat and Facebook.

It's not the first time the public has been fooled by a spoof site making an important point.

In 2015, millions of people tried to use a 'fortune telling' site that looked just like Google, called betagoogle.com. But when they tried to type in a question, the search box would autocomplete to "Where can I find a safe place?" and "Will I be reunited with my family?"

Rather than predicting the future, the site was actually set up to highlight the plight of refugees in the midst of the crisis.

The My Weekend Was Amazing Thanks PackageSanctus

Similarly, even though Life Faker isn’t an actual service, the problem it identifies is very real.

After all, who hasn't posted snaps that give our life a veneer of perfection – even if the reality is very different?

Because of this, some members of the tech industry are trying make the digital world better equipped to support our mental health. 

Some of those who are feeling the negative effects of trying to keep up with their peers are now taking matters into their own hands - by going on temporary tech detoxes or giving up on social media altogether. Others aren't registering on social media sites to begin with. There has also been a proliferation of apps that block social media to keep people from scrolling mindlessly through others' pictures. Other apps even go a step further, giving people cinema tickets and other rewards for not checking their social.

There are also subscription-based therapy apps emerging, for people to text counsellors if they're struggling with the negative effects of online life.

So next time you compare yourself to your friends' holidays, houses or love interests, try and look past the filter - it may not be that perfect IRL.