24-hour online exposure supercharges insecurities
Time spent surfing the web associated with an increase in depressive symptoms
SO OBSESSED have we become with digital recognition and the accompanying prestige that people are reportedly paying up to $15 000 (more than R195 000) on a strange kind of black market to have their Instagram accounts verified.
For the uninitiated, this means that people are shelling out more than a third of the average UK annual salary for the honour of having the social media platform place a small tick next to their names on their profiles, denoting them as people of particular public interest.
The sought-after swoosh – already a familiar feature on Twitter and Facebook – apparently grants users a prime spot in search results and gives them access to some special features on the photo-sharing site.
But most important to many, it serves as a supreme status symbol – a magnet for followers, which in turn have quickly emerged as the common currency of popularity.
To me the whole practice looks like a twisted digital adaptation of a sort of obscure cash-for-honours affair, but arguably with so much more at stake: a whole generation’s sanity.
The news is symptomatic of how far our preoccupation with online influencers and overnight celebrities has become. That preoccupation threatens to teach our children that anything you do in life is basically irrelevant, unless it happens on the web.
And it elevates the importance of our cyber-existence above the lives we lead off-line.
I’m useless at keeping up to date with TV or film. I discovered the joys of Netflix embarrassingly recently, so it was only a few weeks ago that I watched an episode from the third season of the dystopian sci-fi series Black Mirror.
It tells the tale of Lacie, a young woman who becomes so fixated on how highly her friends and acquaintances rate her on social media that she completely loses the plot, drunkenly crashes her best friend’s wedding and ends up in jail hurling obscenities at a fellow inmate before the credits start to roll.
The story is in equal parts entertaining and terrifying, precisely because it doesn’t veer as far from reality as it’s perhaps designed to do.
Already social media has transformed a generation of young people into image-obsessed perfectionists, many of whom are enslaved by self-criticism and a belief that they are only worth as much as their likes, comments and retweets.
Round-the-clock exposure to pictures and posts of beautiful, successful, wealthy and worldly people is supercharging our insecurities more than we might realise. Several studies claim to have proven the positive effects the internet has on our long-term mental health (as a result of it being a tool to create and foster relationships) but numerous others have demonstrated the opposite.
Time spent surfing the web has been associated with an increase in depressive symptoms. A study by the University of Missouri-Columbia has demonstrated that using Facebook can lead to depression if feelings of envy are triggered.
The sprawling nature of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and their ilk means that any attempt to police the social media universe would amount to nothing more than a waste of energy and money. But that’s no excuse to let this problem swell and linger. In the UK the Advertising Standards Authority already does a decent job of cracking down on public campaigns that offend, upset, mislead or disturb.
Extending their influence to personal accounts would be unreasonable, not to mention impossible (imagine banning a picture for making someone look too toned or too tanned – or censoring a snapshot of a Caribbean beach because it might distress someone sitting in an office in rainy Slough).
But what we can do is educate. In the age of the internet’s utter dominance it’s never been more important to equip particularly vulnerable youngsters with the skills needed to recognise the dangers of social media. Cyber-bullying and identity fraud are widespread, but the list of other hazards is lengthy and bleak.
You wouldn’t throw your child in the ocean without teaching it to swim. So why would you consider doing so if you weren’t even able to see all the sharks? – The Independent
They are only worth as much as their likes...