You are worth more than a “like”

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You are worth more than a “like”

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From Nostradamus to the Dalai Lama, numerous aspects of the world today have been foretold. In the early days of photography, various ancient cultures, including the American Indians and descendants of the Mayan civilisation, believed that to take someone’s photo was to steal a part of their soul. Now, some two hundred years since man’s first exploits with a camera, it seems that this prophecy too, is coming true.

Over ten per cent of all images captured in the two-centuries of photographic history were taken in the last twelve months alone and that figure is growing exponentially. With the advent of smart phones and social media, there is not a minute of the average daily life that goes by that can’t be snapped, edited and shared across the world instantaneously. And while this spectacular pinnacle of technological advancement may have become one of the most widely used, successful and powerful tools on the planet, it is also rapidly becoming abused and misused. There are the tragic stories of child exploitation, a devastating industry that shatters the lives of thousands of children worldwide, but there is also another, more insidious face to social media and the Insta-Image.

The ‘selfie’ has taken over feeds across almost every social media channel. Between GoPros, smart phones and selfie sticks, anyone can be the model in their own photo. It’s fun, it’s convenient and it’s a pleasant way to share your experiences with friends and family. You don’t have to pin down a passer-by to take a snap of you in front of the Eiffel Tower or a magical sunset; your holiday portrait is now just an arm-stretch away.

But the selfie has gone far beyond a simple pic to capture a moment. ‘Selfie’ is no longer the abbreviation for self-portrait, becoming instead a statement of self-esteem. It is nothing less than an advertisement of your soul.

Now, the child exploitation is by the child’s own hand, guided by the shadow of peer pressure and blind social dogma, and Instagram users of all ages are selling their souls for a few more Likes. While there are very strict guidelines upon what may and may not be posted, and all of the mainstream channels, including Instagram, are – to their credit – very quick to police offensive or inappropriate material, it is not so much what is being done to others in this instance as what we are doing to ourselves.

In previous recent decades, there has been an outcry against the print media and fashion industries. Seen as the cause of an increase in eating disorders to epidemic proportions and numerous manifestations of self-judgment and depreciation, a full-scale witch-hunt was waged. It was deplorable that these magazines should falsely represent the human form and negatively influence the impressionable youth. But today, by placing a smart phone or laptop into the hands of children almost from birth, that is precisely what we are doing ourselves. Not only are kids able to follow their icons and search for their source of idolatry, they can now place themselves on the Insta-guillotine of judgment.

Girls, boys, men and women are presenting themselves to the world to be assessed, scrutinised and, far too often, publicly belittled and humiliated. We are basing our popularity and social acceptance upon people we may never meet, safe behind their computer screens to unleash their own insecurities upon us in a torrent of insults, abuse and criticisms. And whom can we blame for this public humiliation? Only us – we do it to ourselves.

This is well and good to a rational adult of emotional fortitude, but to a teenager with an already fragile impression of themselves and a skewed perspective of peer group importance it can be, quite literally, life shattering. Cyber-bullying has broken hearts, caused damage and stolen lives and it is the distorted image of our online persona that is to blame.

Scanning the average teen’s Instagram account, one can immediately see the problem. Selfie after selfie is presented to the world. The gravity of self-image is immense and the young and impressionable present themselves to an uncensored, unsympathetic world to pass verdict in abrupt and callous candour. They may not be sexually explicit images, entirely innocent and benign in their content, but what is exposed instead is a brutally vulnerable soul to the unforgiving and volatile Instagram community at large.

We have bred a mindset that craves acceptance, we have showered egotism and image with praise and adoration and the youth are paying the price. No longer is the popular kid the one who is good at sport or has the biggest birthday party, the newest bike, the best dance moves. Now, that pedestal we clamour for is a thousand anonymous Likes, five thousand random followers or a 15 second video clip that goes viral. Instagram has become a false idol to which we sacrifice our souls and, as quickly as we gain that little blue heart we so crave, we can have the mantle stripped from us, and stripped with it, our self-esteem, our self-worth and, in a few tragic cases, our life.

Social Media is never #NoFilter. It is a heavily edited, carefully selected, highly manufactured snapshot of our daily lives. People don’t have diarrhea or menstrual cycles on Instagram, they don’t have bad hair days or depression, it doesn’t rain, no one works, the surf is always pumping. It is an acutely manicured fabrication. And even when the negatives are broadcast, they are still presented as something to praise or revere, lacking everything that makes us human.

We must recognise that this is a false world. What matters is what lies outside the door, not in our inbox, socialising doesn’t exist in cyberspace, it exists in flesh and blood and real friends are not measured by a number on your account page but by those who laugh with you and smile with you and hold you when you cry.

Our youth are selling themselves into a digital world and we must show them that they’re being ripped off. Social media is nothing of the former and too much of the latter, a hoax that far too many innocent kids are manifesting into their reality. We must change our perception of who we are and recognise our lives online for all the falsity in which they are created. You are not a two-dimensional collection of pixels on a smart phone screen; you are real, you move, you speak, you think…and you hurt. Don’t place yourself in the firing line if you can’t dodge the bullets.

This said, social media is amazing; it is the vehicle for so much good, so much happiness and positivity. Hashtags for breast cancer awareness, shared posts for abductees, fund raising for Nepal, and the little things; keeping family and friends connected across years and continents, discovering new inspiration and experiencing a world you may otherwise never see. There is an endless wealth of potential in the Brave New Digital World. We can solve the world’s problems, topple governments and save the lives of those in need. But we have stood on the shoulders of giants to reach this lofty pedestal, and all the while we asked if we could. Now is the time to ask how we should.

Like so many creations of technology in this modern world, Instagram has become an incredible power. It is up to us if we use it for right or wrong – it is up to us to save our souls.

The following checklist is a brief overview on how to help protect you and your children:

1. Privacy settings

Instagram allows you to determine who follows you. If an account is set to private in Instagram’s privacy settings, sending a request is the only way to become a follower of someone or by accepting a request you are allowing people to follow you. This way is a lot safer than having a public profile because only those who you approve to follow you are able see your pictures. However, always assume that everything you post on Instagram can be seen by everyone as there are easy work-arounds available and people that are following you may screen shot and share anything you post without your permission. Privacy settings aren’t foolproof, but they can be helpful.

To set your account to private:

1. Open Instagram and go to the wheel on the top right hand corner
2. Click on the wheel
3. Scroll down to Private Account
4. Swipe the button across to the right

2. Collective total of your posts

It is easy for people to look through your account and be able to piece together information and work out places that you frequent, when you are there, where you work, where you go to school and so on. Patterns of how you go about you daily life can easily start to become very clear in your Instagram feed and so you need to be very aware of what you are posting and how that pieces together to tell a bigger story.

3. Photo map

Whenever you post a new photo to Instagram, the final screen in the process offers an “Add to Your Photo Map” option. This is switched off by default, so unless you specifically turn it on, the content won’t appear on your map. If you do enable the feature, you have the option to name the location where the photo was taken.

When you consider our previous point about the collective total of your posts we always recommend that you do not use this feature. No matter how excited you are about where you are. Remember this is totally your ego doing the talking; do you really want complete strangers knowing exactly where you are and what you are doing, just for the sake of a ‘like’?

People can keep clicking down to street level on a photo map icon and see exactly where you are. If you are a parent, please ensure that your children have this function disabled. We have all seen young girls taking selfies in the mirror, but think about what can happen if they publish one of these posts with the caption: “Mum and Dad are out – I am home alone and bored” and their photo map is on. If you have a public account, anyone on Instagram can view your Photo Map by tapping the map pin icon on your profile.

If you have a private account, any of your approved followers can view the map. If you don’t have any photos on your map, the icon is disabled and doesn’t lead anywhere. To remove the photo map completely, you must deselect all the images that are currently on it. You can remove images from the map on the Photo Map page itself. Tap the menu button in the top right corner of the Photo Map screen and choose “Edit.” Deselect any pictures that you don’t want to appear on the map. Any images you remove remain in your Instagram feed, but the geolocation information associated with them is deleted permanently. If you want to restore a picture to the map you must upload the image again.

4. Following and followers

As we mentioned in our first tip, people can follow you without having to be approved. If you do an excess amount of “Following” it can be significantly detrimental. You are putting yourself on someone else’s radar by following them. More following leads to more followers. This can lead to more people seeing you and anything you put out there – potentially great for business, but extremely volatile for the individual. The worst part is that it is very easy for someone on Instagram to establish a false identity, appearing innocent and benign but hiding a much darker reality. You can never truly tell on the Internet.

5. Think before you post

Keep private information private. Don’t share your home address or other sensitive information online. Do not share photos of passports, driver’s licenses or any other form identification. Always remember that Instagram is a public forum and whatever you share is just a screenshot and a crop tool away from being shared as someone else’s image.

Note to parents and carers:

There is a reason there are age restrictions on apps such as Instagram. Letting a child under the recommended age of 13 years use Instagram (even if set to private) is both naïve and potentially dangerous. You are exposing your child to things they are not emotionally capable of dealing with. It is a search engine with billions of images just a hashtag away from being seen. Your child can search for or be accidentally exposed to anything. It is dangerous for children to be exposed to this world at too young an age. You are setting up a digital history for them that can never be erased. You are supporting them in breaking a rule about lying about their age to join in the first place.

Instagram bypasses all adult content filters and there is no way you can stop your child from being exposed to violent, pornographic or drug-related content. There are gun sales, anorexia, cutting and other self-harm cultures that encourage children to participate. It is not just about locking down their privacy about who can see them – but you need to understand that they can search for anything #pussy #chicks and so on can be perfectly innocent to a little one looking for pictures of kittens and baby chickens, but the images they will see could be totally inappropriate.

Cyberbullying is rife on Instagram and if it is not happening to your child, how do you know what they are commenting on or if they are the ones instigating the bullying? Do you know what they are saying to other children? Do you monitor the comments made on every single photo that your child posts? Everyday? Every comment? Comments can be made weeks after you “check” an image. Think before you say yes. It is not just a fun little photo-sharing app.

It is important to understand that children do not use or have the same understanding of social media as we do. They explore more, share more, rely upon it as a source of truth more. Do not base your experience on Instagram as the reason you let your child use Instagram. We are from two different worlds.

Story By Thomas Leitch

Checklist and photo by Kirra Pendergast

Photo by Kirra Pendergast

Photo by Kirra Pendergast

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