Social Media Influencers and the Vulnerability of Youth to such Influences

Social Media Influencers and the Vulnerability of Youth to such Influences

Society | Feb 4, 2019 / by Gayatri Nagu
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Staying “online” on the internet has lately transformed into a constant state of being with no possibility of an escape. Information which was earlier obtained through discovering and pursuing one's surroundings has been reduced to a mere electronic device. The Internet is a network where access has become easier providing abundant information with much to offer to mankind. It has manifested itself into emerging as a new way of life and transforming how humans look at the world. Social media is a product of this booming online generation.

Each logging into their social media account possesses the ability to utilize the wide access that it provides and communicate their thoughts, ideas as well as have insight into cultures from far and beyond. A lot of times, it helps young individuals to develop their understanding of the world and move beyond the constrictions of society and their surroundings in general. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have served to be platforms for people to conduct communications and provide what some might say a possibility of the creation of a small global village. There are positives that social media has produced, but are they enough? Are those positives enough to overshadow the often ignored dangers that it simultaneously offers? And are those dangers avoidable? Or has the denial of the mere existence of a threat cost the new generation much more than expected? These are some of the probing questions that this article sets out to find the answers to.

As per the statistics of 2018, 95% of teenagers have full access to smartphones and 45% of them are online constantly (Schlosser, 2018). Converted into numbers those are probably millions who are nose deep into their phones at this very moment. Human beings are found to derive happiness out of a sense of belongingness with other fellow individuals. This need and feeling within people are precisely what the social media exploits. It creates a ‘feel good’ factor amongst people especially young teenagers which makes them feel involved, ‘up to date’ or ‘happening’. Anybody can become popular nowadays. Anything can go ‘viral’ and help gain someone thousands of followers. Influencers on social media are also a product of this booming online generation.

An influencer is defined as a user who has the established credibility in a particular industry. She/he has access to a large audience and possesses the ability to persuade or ‘influence’ others by utilising their authenticity and reach across a significant number of people. However, it remains vital to analyse the deeper truth behind the effects of such an ‘influence’. The extent of this ‘influence’ is much more than expected. For example, 70% of teens are persuaded by these influencers on social media much more as compared to an average celebrity. Brands approach them for their product promotion in an attempt to take advantage of the control that they command over the younger generation 6 out of 10 teens are found to be convinced of whatever their favourite social media influencer is adopting (Knightly, n.d.). E.g. in the film ‘Ingrid goes West’, a young woman obsesses over an influencer (Taylor) and starts mimicking her every move which ends up dangerously for the self-identity of the woman. It might only seem like an example of an indie flick, but it is closer to reality than expected. However, there exists a deeper problem underlying this.

Firstly, addiction to social media itself is a huge problem looming over today’s youth. It is obvious that the use of social media is increasing day by day. But how much is too much? Two hundred sixty million Indians are active social media users (Translate media, n.d.) and are found to spend 70% of their time on the smartphone on social media purely for entertainment preferred (Pillai, 2017). There’s a grave problem here. Teenagers, in the years of innocence and discovering themselves and their goals in life, spend a majority of their time looking into the picture perfect lives of such individuals. Hobbies become non-existent, self-development gets hampered, and the mind is tuned to spending hours in front of the screen.

Secondly, following Social media influencers often lead to a life of comparison. Young girls and boys of impressionable ages have access to such content, look at it, admire it to the point of idolising it and therefore form a construct of what constitutes the “appropriate” or the “accepted” form of lifestyle. The life of their favourite influencers is a lot different than what it is portrayed- they too have their struggles, weaknesses and days when they do not look their best but their social media is structured in a way to portray only the brighter side. The problem begins when there is a failure to recognize this truth and teenagers start comparing the highlights and the ‘picture perfect’ moment of such people to their everyday life which might not seem as glamorous in comparison. This life of constantly feeling ‘not good enough’ or ‘not content’ with yourself leads to various other problems that highlight the third issue is revolving around the overuse of social media. Teens addicted to social media are found to be more susceptible to grave issues such as depression and others such as body dysmorphia and a complete lack of communication skills due to a cut off from the real world (Gordon, 2018). Other problems emerge as well such as privacy issue emerging out of sharing too much, putting out false information and many other instances of bullying. While problems are many, these have emerged as few of the key issues revolving around this culture of social media and its influencers.

Girls seem to get more affected by social media and are found to fall prey to its side effects much more than boys. For example- A survey conducted by The Guardian observed the ever-increasing dissatisfaction that young girls harbour within them in regards to their body. They continue to face the harsher side-effects of cyberbullying and online harassment on their own without even confiding to their parents or friends.  51% of girls of the age of 14 and 16 tend to be unhappy with their appearance and want to look like someone else. They are also found to be deeply affected and go in self-doubt about their looks when they see celebrities who they think of to be ‘perfect’ being poorly trolled on social media for their appearance (Meikel, 2013). They are found to begin seeking validation from the virtual world, mindlessly aping these influencers ignoring the loss of individuality and self-worth. Likes determine their number of friends; comments determine their worth and a dislike can affect them much more than what is required. This isn’t safe. While many such studies have been conducted, many statistics been formulated not much has been done to curb these threats.

The 21st century has witnessed an unprecedented crucial changed in the world of technology. In the midst of all the problems posed, there is a need for solutions. There is a need to first not only recognize but also address the above mentioned side effects of social media in the lives of vulnerable teens which can even start with managing at the micro level such as parental control (making rules such as not using phones during family time or reducing hours spent by their kids on phone). Spreading of awareness through the use of social media itself and choosing such topics for important panel discussions and conferences are also ways through which awareness amongst teens can be increased. Another vital solution that has emerged is the growing number of mobile applications that can be installed in the phone and are aimed towards reducing the usage of social media. Such apps include for example- Headspace (it focuses on making the user more mindful by helping to meditate) and Forest (it plants a tree each time the user has spent a certain amount of required time off the smartphone) (School Lettings Solutions, 2018). Social media is a portal that can do wonders and create a better society by giving such exposure and access to all kinds of information and opinions. It is important to realise that it is not a getaway from the reality which can be used to gain validation. It is essential to log off from the virtual world and reconnect with the actual reality to finally strike the much needed healthy balance between the life online and offline.

References

Schlosser, K. (2018). New research finds 95%of teens have access to a smartphone: 45% of them online constantly. The Geekwire. Retrieved from: https://www.geekwire.com/2018/new-research-finds-95-teens-access-smartphone-45-online-almost-constantly/

Knightly, E. (n.d). 20 Influencer marketing statistics that will Surprise you. The Digital Marketing Institute. Retrieved from: https://digitalmarketinginstitute.com/blog/20-influencer-marketing-statistics-that-will-surprise-you

Translate Media, (n.d). India Social Media. The Translate Media. Retrieved from: https://www.translatemedia.com/translation-services/social-media/india-social-media/

Pillai, S. (2017). Indians spend 70%of their mobile internet time on social media, entertainment. The Times of India. Retrieved from: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/indians-spend-70-of-mobile-internet-time-on-social-entertainment/articleshow/62125840.cms

Gordon, S. (2018). 5 ways social media affects teen mental health. The Very well family. Retrieved from:  https://www.verywellfamily.com/ways-social-media-affects-teen-mental-health-4144769

Meikle, J. (2013). Growing number of girls suffer low self-esteem, says report. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/nov/29/girls-low-self-esteem-rising-girlguiding-report

School Lettings Solution, (2018, March 5). We’re addicted to social media. The School Lettings Solutions. Retrieved from: https://schoollettings.org/were-addicted-to-social-media/

Image credit: Fw

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Written By Gayatri Nagu

Student O.P. Jindal Global University

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