Frequently we are reminded of disparity, directly and indirectly enforced through various societal and institutional structures. Social media, although a great outlet for populism – a political approach that allows the ordinary person to have a voice, also has its own negative impact on egalitarianism. Using regulations that unequivocally protect fame and fortune over the majority of its social media users, 24 and I look into the disparities that social media presents us in regard to the privacy and protection of such a vast community of users.
Who is able to remember the time when police arrested a 21-year-old man for breaking and entering into a 13-year-old girl's house after obsessing over her social media posts and studying where she lived through the internet? And who remembers Kim Kardashian’s, held at gun-point Paris attack? The coverage speaks for itself. Mass media outlets thrive by disproportionately focussing their content on high-profile personnel, thus allowing them to have the biggest leverage when it comes to protecting themselves, their family and their assets.
Some of the world’s most dangerous predators use social media platforms as their hunting ground. Home to malware, scams, ransomware and cyberbullying, social media has also been known to be used prolifically at the advantage of predators whose main goal is to commit such crimes outside of the ‘internet world’ and inside the real world.
Still, much is yet to be done to protect its users. This is not a case of how safe our data is against data breaches, although an important topic, this is about cyberbullying. Crimes committed by mutual users in the cybercommunity and how the social media industry reacts to this behaviour depending on who falls victim.
We often relate cyberbullying as a specific act against children and an adolescent community of internet users however, it is an easy yet ignorant notion to suggest that these cases are isolated by age. Social media is a breeding ground for abuse formed in many different ways, against all types of users. From ghost accounts to personal accounts being used as a way to project insolent words of racism, sexism, homophobia, fashion choice, body-shaming and more, social media has been found to have a massive negative impact on mental health, human behaviour and society. By harming our self-esteem, through exposure of photoshopped and thought to be ‘perfect’ images, social media has been proven as a cause of depression and anxiety. In March 2018, 41% of people who participated in a survey stated that the social media platforms they use make them feel “anxious, sad or depressed”.
In an exclusive interview, we spoke with 26-year-old Ale Walsh (a fictitious name used to protect his identity) about his experience with online stalking. Describing his situation as something he was born into; Ale spoke with us about how his Dad used social media to stalk him and his Mum. Managing to locate them “before the internet made it easy”, Ale explains that his Dad used LinkedIn more recently as a way to find him back in 2020. Making him anxious, Ale worries for the safety of his Mum as well as himself. Reflecting on his situation, Ale thinks that no matter what he does, “he’s a very determined stalker and if he wants to find you, he can''. Although Ale Walsh has blocked him on all platforms for now, Ale remains sure that he will find another way to contact him through the internet, pointing out that “blocking people only does so much and if you block someone it’s easy to create a new account in just a few seconds”. Now paranoid about his use on social media, Ale says that “people think nothing of it”, when putting personal information on social media.
It seems as though it has become incredibly normalised that when people put their ‘personal’ information on social media, they no longer consider those aspects of their lives truly personal and in need of protecting. As we are constantly exposed to people’s openness online, especially when looking at the activity of celebrities such as Chrissy Teigan and Justin Bieber, it can be expected that we begin to behave in such a way that we unconsciously copy and mimic the behaviour of those we look up to.
Another new trend created by IG influencers allows us to realise how transparency is celebrated online, through paid promo, likes and shares. We are influenced by users with hundreds of thousands of followers to share our everyday activities, from what we eat for breakfast to where we dine for dinner.
However, none of us are untouchable. Influencers, contrary to the love they receive have also reported an increased amount of hate and abuse they face online. Since coronavirus, more people have time to spend at home, some of which spend their time sending violent messages of abuse to influencers and other users, leaving these victims feeling powerless against online trolls as even after blocking them, they create new accounts from which they are able to continue this upsetting behaviour.
These perpetrators are likely to have been formed on the battlegrounds of Ask.fm (or something similar). Thinking that they know you personally based on your social media information and what you’ve chosen to put out there, they blame you for giving yourself a platform to be abused on, rather than spending the time they seem to have so much of reflecting on their own actions and the consequences they pose you to suffer. Being able to hide behind their keyboards, they feel safe and somewhat protected by the social media industry.
When comparing the treatment of rapper Wiley, who became banned from social media in mid-2020 due to antisemitic comments, it can be wondered as to why media companies like IG, Twitter and YouTube, cannot fully banish more low-key users who spread abusive messages through the many internet services we are lucky and sometimes not so lucky to have.
Most of us have learnt about internet safety back in school, but how often do refer back to this advice when posting online. Some users post multiple times a day through a number of different platforms making it easy to forget thinking about what information we are putting out there, yet it only takes a few seconds. Although innovative technologies are beginning to improve our well-being online, through use of alerts of unauthorised entry and added features like “hide posts like this”, we continue to be exposed to cruel online users. To avoid this, we must use our initiative to reassess our activity online by adopting better, safer ways when maintaining our social media presences. Though, it may be more difficult for users who use their platforms in a way that helps them make a living. Influencers share personal moments, experiences and details of their lives in return for a gain that is financial. By altering their behaviour online, they fear that their income will be seriously compromised or even lost and therefore face choosing risk over safety.
More needs to be done for the protection of all users online. By implementing new strategies like informative ads about social media safety, ones that are able to remind its users of what information they should avoid putting online or basic training once a year enforced through social media apps, the e-world can become a safer place. Social media companies should invest more into the protection of its users as they should remain partially responsible for the battleground they have created. Through increased investment in innovative technologies that detect blocked users who open new accounts and more, us, the ‘ordinary’ person, along with high-profile users can feel more protected online.