This year on Tuesday 11th February we have National Safer Internet Day. A day in which the aim is to inspire a national conversation about using technology responsibly, respectfully, critically and correctly.
As a parent the Internet and social media in particular scares me. Therefore days like Safer Internet Day are indeed very much needed to have those important conversations with our children be it simply about how to keep safe online, what to do if somebody has sent them something unsuitable or simply to reassess our own activity on social media and how it may be affecting our lives in general.
Somewhat accidentally over the last 18 months I have grown a modest following on social media which despite my protests of “hating social media,” which of course sometimes I actually do, has also been a great tool in sharing writing with fellow bloggers, connecting with local people and also forming friendships with people worldwide of whom we have common interests.
I used to think I didn’t like social media because people were nosey and I didn’t like everybody knowing my buisness. Now I write a blog about my life I can hardly preach that preach. Lately I have thought a lot about social media and the different characters I have come across, of which there are many weird and wonderful. Through these musings I have came to the conclusion that the reason social media bothers me is due to its affect on people’s mental health and the negative affects it has on people’s behaviours and personalities.
Of course online bullying and trolling is at the forefront of “bad Internet.” There’s something seriously weird about a person behind a screen deliberately wanting to cause upset. From the general vile insult, to the mundane grammar checking trolls and the “offended by everything” troll who retorts their offense to every single debate they take part in. It does lead me to wonder if these annoying relentless people are actually like this in real life? Do they go around their everyday jobs with the same grating attitudes or do they simply enjoy this as a recreational pursuit each evening in the depth of their squalored pit of negativity whilst sitting in a sweaty onesie, hopefully drinking weak tea. These people puzzle me but there are many more social media users that have also come to light which intrigue as well as confuse me.
Instagram in particular seems to be a breeding bed of people slating each other for their need for followers or the way they go about achieving those followers. Some exercise their imaginations by creating or recreating humourous photographs and reenactments which always make me laugh, others ramble on stories and just their personality shines through and it’s enjoyable even just to hear about their trip around the supermarket. Whilst others grumble and moan about the lack of followers they have despite their best efforts to achieve a large following through outrageous posts, desperate cries for attention and perhaps behaviour which is bordering with the trolls. I find the whole thing confusing as I’ve watched these people pass my news feed day after day for the past 18 months. It kind of takes me back to when I watched reality TV such as Big Brother and at first the person seemed lovely and genuine but as the weeks pass by you see that false pretence can’t be kept up for any length of time, your true person and purpose will always shine through eventually.
I wonder at a world whereby people simply make it their purpose to gain following from people they don’t actually know? I wonder what the reason behind their need for this amount of likes and followers are. Of course I appreciate the following I have on my social media accounts and my blog but I have also had this number of followers questioned by people who follow me on Instagram as to why I have so many followers? What makes me so special seeing as I don’t parade around in a funny outfit for likes or put on shows, or even feature photos of my children? I have answered these people with the simple reason being that I blog honestly about topics that matter to me and to raise awareness. Likewise followers that do message me I always make time to message back when I can, especially those in similar situations to myself. As in all friendships it’s not about boasting about yourself and your own personal life but listening also and I feel that’s a fundamental failure of certain people’s social media accounts.
Social media and children in general worries me. I have had some comments about my physical appearance and my life in general which perhaps 10 years ago would have bothered me, perhaps affected me. I can see how the affect of these strange troll like humans may have on younger or more vulnerable Internet users. I think it’s vital we address internet behaviours with our own children. Teaching children to be able to discuss what they have seen if it has made them feel uncomfortable or is potentially harmful is half the battle. From there we can discuss what it is that is harmful or inappropriate from what they’ve seen and tackle it together rather than leaving them with uncomfortable images they feel worried about.
We were raised as children not to speak to strangers yet the world of social media is a dangerous ground for those strangers to creep in around our children and indeed ourselves as adults. Sad humans posing as others with fake accounts. I wonder at these people who, even if not for predatory use, are sitting there thinking up fake profile names, false hobbies and likes and profile pictures all in the hope of creeping on somebody else. I sometimes wonder what they may look like and how they carry out their lives focusing and obsessing with someone else so much so that they’re own miserable lives tick past them. I think this is also an important message to get across to our children and children we teach to be able to recognise a fake account and potential predator. Of course some will be a lot easier to spot than others as some people simply lack the mental capacity to even create a half believable false account. However the knowledge and the questions should be there in our minds when accepting a friend request from a potential stranger and hopefully in our children’s too.
I think the Internet and social media can be a positive place for many people if used correctly. A place where interesting content can be created and shared. Life stories and communication can be established with like minded people. However all these can only occur when the person is being real to themselves and their followers and if they are being as happy in real life as they are for the Internet. Also its important to remember that everybody is facing their own personal battles behind that screen and so kindness should always be first and foremost in any form of communication both in person or on the Internet.
The Cockney in the Countryside