The perils of social media

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SocialMediaMarketingWith one in four teenagers being online at any given time, the growing dependency of social media use has led to alarming cases of societal concerns such as cyber bullying, eating disorders, drop in school grades, early sex indulgence and with the most recent case being suicide via an online game called Blue Whale.

The suicide game involves teenagers joining an online social media group where the administrator assigns them different tasks everyday such as watching horror movies, cutting them and staying up the whole night. After completion of the tasks, they are encouraged to kill themselves so as to prove that they are heroes.

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Just this month, the vicious game has been linked to approximately 130 teenager deaths globally and despite the Kenya Film Classification Board taking action by banning in the country, it still proves a difficult task to mitigate against such vices online.

“Blue Whale is not a game in the sense of being a video, or an app, or a website, or any structured product. If it exists, it is an activity, just as ‘Truth or Dare’ has been a ‘game’ played by teenagers over the decades,” said Ben Roberts, the Chief Technical Officer of Liquid Telecom Group and Chairman of Liquid Telecom Kenya.

“As a ‘game’, it may be something that teenagers are doing on social media, setting these dares in groups, or across accounts: but it has no identifiable structure or means of being prevented or blocked by Internet Service Providers.”

The main way in which youngsters may be engaging in the Blue Whale challenge, which reportedly sees them complete dares set by a ‘minder’ until the final dare becomes to commit suicide, is through social media. Having joined a ‘death group’, they are reported to be posting pictures of each completed dare, which moves towards self harm as the game progresses.

Indeed, social media provide teenagers with the means in which they can use in a bid to seek approval for their appearance and compare themselves to others thus they are vulnerable to those with ulterior motives.

Research has found that the most vulnerable users and those most inclined to engage in such ‘games’, are those that post, comment and compare their photos with their online ‘friends’.

In a bid to ward off teenagers off these vices, the children’s Kenyan online patrol platform, Watoto Watch Network, offers training our children can safely use the internet.
“From our trainings we have come to realise that children are aloof when it comes to the risks involved with the use of the internet so apart from teaching children, parents and teachers on the dangers found online, we also show them how to protect themselves,” said Lillian Kariuki, Executive Director of Watoto Watch Network.

“Most teenagers use the internet to connect with friends or meet new ones so social media sites are very popular with them. We show them practically how to put privacy settings on these sites.”

Parents and guardians, on the other hand, are encouraged to use informative conversations rather than intimidating teenagers by fear in order to promote safe internet use in their children.

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