After recently speaking at a few schools about how to stay safe on social media, I began to realise just how big a part social networking plays in our everyday lives, especially with the younger generation.
Australia’s population recently ticked over 24 million which coincided with Facebook announcing that they had reached 15 million Australian users.
This means that 62.5% of the total Australian population has a Facebook account. Now whether or not that shocks you or does not surprise you in the least, you cannot deny that our thirst for real-time engagement is becoming more and more prevalent.
A large portion of these users are teens, who have grown up with social networking as the norm. So how has social media affected the lives of these millenials, playfully dubbed “Generation Like”?
The Social Media Sensation
2016 is a big year for social media in the sense that demand is high and consumers are always wanting to stay ahead of the curve. While Facebook is still part of our everyday networking diet, applications such as Snapchat and Instagram are becoming more common as consumers (mostly the younger demographic) turn to a more visual form of being social online.
At a recent Learn with iiNet workshop, I posed the question to a group High School students: which social media application do they use and why? The result was an overwhelming win for Instagram and Snapchat, while the generic answer as to why they used it, was because they can tell a story through video or photographic form while connecting with their friends and greater audience in a compelling way.
Being an avid user of social media apps, I can understand the appeal of sharing a moment in time with your followers. Gone are the days of writing a ‘post’ on Facebook describing how awesome your holiday was, when you can just take a photo, upload it and wait for the ‘Likes’ to roll in. But being a frequent user does have its disadvantages.
The more time I‘ve spent reading up on social media and facilitating Learn with iiNet workshops, the more I realise that self-regard shouldn’t be defined by a number of likes, comments, followers or retweets. Users tend to get caught up in their own online image rather than prioritising themselves.
To highlight our social media assimilation into our daily lives, I’ve put together some points that have been brought up in previous Learn with iiNet Workshops, in hopes that others may find them helpful or insightful.
Our Digital Footprint
Our social content is becoming increasingly more visible in search results. Some users purposely leave their profiles open purely to gain followers and have their thoughts heard. The risk of not securing your account can have long-lasting repercussions on future job and education prospects.
Potential job candidates are increasingly being screened via social media by Human Resource departments and recruitment agencies. Some question the ethics of this practice (after all, what you write on your Facebook should be between you and your friends), and it has even been shown to potentially backfire on the employer. However, for the time being it seems if you want the job then it can’t hurt to keep a clean and professional digital footprint, just to keep your bases covered.
It’s fairly obvious that one of the reasons why the online social community struggles with insecurity is because we compare our own life movements to everyone else’s. Social applications give us a platform to vent, analyse and observe others which can lead down the path of envy and ultimately an unhappier state.
A hidden gripe of social media applications such as Facebook or Instagram is the ability to edit our online profile into someone we are not. “Catfishing” is a term that has been brought to prominence by TV shows and documentaries and highlights exactly the insecurity of certain pseudo-online users. Basically, a catfish is someone who pretends to be someone they’re not by using Facebook or other social applications to create a false identity or deceive someone.
The rising trend of “Instagram models” certainly doesn’t help these feelings, as it can sometimes feel like everyone but you is living the full celebrity lifestyle – even young children. Not only does this glamorising of one’s life damage the self-worth of their followers who can feel inferior, it can even hurt their own self esteem. Australian former Instagram model Essana O’Neill made headlines last year when she admitted her perceived fame and success from Instagram felt meaningless and made her miserable.
In this seemingly lose-lose scenario, you might start to wonder why people continue to love Instagram. Well like all social media platforms it all depends on how you view it and how you use it. If you go into it with a healthy and rational mindset knowing most of what you see does not actually reflect reality, you can get some good out of it. One teen loves that Instagram keeps her connected with her friends when her chronic illness keeps her cooped up in bed and out of school. As long as you don’t become too invested in “likes” and “followers”, it’s possible to find Instagram to be a great platform for self-expression.
A show of hands often tells you a lot about an audience of teenagers, especially when the question posed was regarding messaging people anonymously. The conventional form of messaging such as SMS or Facebook messenger has appeared to have taken a back seat as of late. Anonymously messaging is gaining a larger audience and geographically based apps such as Kik Messenger and Yik Yak are allowing users to send photos and text to people near their location.
To some extent I can see why being incognito can allow people to express themselves where they may not be able to in the real world, however, in these cases the negatives dramatically outweigh the positives as the term “Cyberbullying” becomes front and center.
Cyberbullying is when someone or multiple people use digital technology to deliberately and repeatedly harass or intimidate another person. Although cyberbullying can come in many forms, anonymous bullying on one of these platforms is one of the most dangerous as the bully does not need to divulge their name – and this is just the start. Sexting, revenge porn and consumerism are all a part of the wider conversation that teenagers need to have in their schools and with their parents.
Upon reflecting on the results and conversations, it occurred to me that the younger generation’s desire for that Like, Comment or interaction and society’s reluctance to disconnect is somewhat concerning. The old phrase of “Stranger Danger” which basically advises people not to talk to strangers or people they do not know personally has been slightly lost in the digital age. Common sense must prevail and the discussion of digital footprints and staying safe online must continue to be an area of focus.
Staying safe online
One thing I talk about with the teens in these workshops is online safety. No matter what platform you use or your reasons for using it, the virtual world can contain real life dangers. Here are some of my best tips for social media users:
Do you have teens that love using social media? Or do you have any good advice for them? Let us know in the comments below.