24-hour on­line ex­po­sure su­per­charges in­se­cu­ri­ties

Time spent surf­ing the web as­so­ci­ated with an in­crease in de­pres­sive symp­toms

The Star Late Edition - - NEWS - JOSIE COX

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 e m b a r r a s s - in­gly 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 i n s e c u r i t i e s 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...

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