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Youth and social media – a world of chasing likes



Online fame is the currency of our youth, say social-media experts who admit that while it can be dangerous and a damaging road to travel, it can also act as a force for good.

Youth today measure popularity or validation based on the number of followers they have on platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and TikTok.

“It’s the currency they deal in,” said clinical and forensic psychologist Pam Tudin, a youth and social-media expert. And they will go to great lengths to acquire it in the ever-changing digital world – the only world they know. Some even purchase Instagram followers and likes for pictures.

“On a good day, a teen is wobbling in terms of their self-esteem. There are so many areas in which they feel they come up ‘less than’. If you have fame online, you can somehow overcome some of those feelings of inadequacy,” she said.

However, psychologists agree it’s a hollow sense of achievement for a lot of teens because sustaining it is exhausting.

“Many have a deep feeling inside that at any moment, they are going to fall off the edge of the cliff of fame, and then the real struggle of ‘who am I without this fame’ is very hard for them to deal with.”

This feeling can be the same for ordinary youth in schools and suburbs, and those who have already hit the big time on YouTube – megastars with mega followers who your children scroll, follow, and like with religious enthusiasm every day.

Ever wondered what your child is doing in his or her room for hours on end? They are downloading YouTube videos of their favourite online celebrities: from sporting stars, fitness enthusiasts to pranksters, dancers, and performers; or they’re gaming themselves or watching famous YouTubers play their favourite game. It’s highly likely that your kids are dreaming of becoming famous on YouTube too one day.

With a big enough follower base, vlogging – posting videos online – can prove to be highly lucrative. YouTube original content creators are generating massive revenue, and kids are licking their lips with envy. If a YouTuber reaches 1 000 subscribers and 4 000 watch hours within a year, they can monetise their account with advertisements.

The world’s most popular YouTuber is Swedish-born vlogger PewDiePie. He’s well known for his Let’s Play videos, which document him playing video games. He has 105 million subscribers, and makes millions a month in merchandise sales.

“Many want to become influencers,” said Sarah Hoffman, an attorney who with Tudin created KlikdSA, a company aimed at giving parents and youth the tools to navigate the digital world.

Influencer culture is a large part of any teenager and young adult’s mindset.

“The purpose of the teenage years is to begin to identify with something other than their family unit. Influencer culture allows for immediate access to various ways in which they can identify with somebody or something that goes beyond their family,” she said.

An online influencer is an individual who has the ability to influence the buying decision of someone else’s target market based on their own following, said Tudin. Brands seek out influencers because they increase the brand’s reach.

According to Tudin, a good influencer is made up of three components. The first is audience reach – the number of followers. Then comes brand affinity, which is the influencer’s expertise or credibility in relation to the brand that they are selling. The last is somebody who has strength in terms of their relationship with their followers.

Having a large following doesn’t necessarily make for a good influencer. A lovely young girl does a make-up tutorial on YouTube, and because she’s authentic and has credibility and affinity with whatever make-up brand she’s using, she will gain credibility with her audience and develop a strong relationship with them.

“Although she might have only 1 000 followers, when she says ‘buy Mac’ everyone buys Mac because they have recognised she is authentic in the way she comes across and that she has expertise in relation to the product.”

However, the minute teens realise that someone might have millions of followers but very little engagement and authenticity “the teens are out of there”, Tudin said.

So why the need for fame? There is always the illusion that fame is going to bring you something that you don’t have, but for Tudin, more interesting is the question why people follow them.

“We seek affiliation. We want to have a feeling of belonging. If I like this person or I comment on their post, then somehow I’m a little bit like them. When you do belong, it’s affirming.”

However, craving virtual attention can be soul destroying.

“Teens talk about how it can crush their day if they don’t get the likes they desire,” said Tudin.

They can get 10 000 likes, but if they don’t get the one like they want, they question everything about themselves.

“Chasing likes is a huge part of their lives. They check their phone in the middle of the night. They do something called sad fishing by putting up a post that says ‘terrible day’ in the hope of getting some sort of response.”

While this scenario sounds bleak, Tudin has faith in the youth, and is positive they will learn to channel their creativity in ways that will promote healthy self-esteem and self-worth.

They need to decide whether they want to be passive recipients who just scroll and like and live for the potential like in return, or whether they want to be contributors. “If they decide to be contributors, there is a far greater chance of them using social media for good and feeling good about themselves,” Tudin said.

Her advice is to worry less about how much time they spend online, and more about how much time you are engaging and spending with them.

“Let go of the wagging finger approach and focus more on how you can stay connected.”

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