|A study found thousands of fame-hungry teens, some with millions of followers, posting provocative photos or videos. AFP/Getty Images|
Torstar News Service
Teens going to extreme lengths for online fame. One provocative pose, the flash of a camera and a tap on a screen are all teenagers need to gain thousands, if not millions, of new friends.
A year-long study into “selfie culture” finds teenagers are going to unsettling lengths to gain online fame. So-called “#Instafamers” are abandoning lessons learned about online privacy, posting near-nude photos or videos and opening themselves up to exploitation and bullying, according to a new study by researchers at Centennial College.
“When sharing becomes over-sharing and that becomes fame-craving and that becomes obsessive, then obviously we need to start asking why,” said Debbie Gordon, director of Centennial College’s Kids Research Centre, which researches children’s media futures.
Gordon and her team of three recent Centennial College graduates combed through social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Vine looking for users aged 13 to 18, mostly in North America.
She found thousands of fame-hungry teens, some with millions of followers, posting provocative photos or videos.
“They’re working it,” said Gordon. “If you’ve got a million followers, you are going to be in front of your phone or your computer for many hours and many days.”
The study found celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Miley Cyrus, who have massive online followings and post racy photos, influenced the teens. (On Tuesday, Kardashian posted a photo of herself with her bottom exposed. It garnered over 700,000 likes by Wednesday evening.)
“We have a culture that conflates celebrity kinds of attention with being important and being heard,” said Aimée Morrison, an associate professor of English specializing in new media studies at the University of Waterloo.
Morrison said the desire for attention is natural, but in the absence of better mentoring, some teens are seduced by a quick attention fix.
“You’ll have a young girl who’s just turning and peeling off clothes or a young boy… who walks up the camera and just undoes his zipper and opens up his drawers,” she said. “That’s going to drive ‘likes’ and it’s going to drive ‘follows’ and it’s going to drive comments.”
Some teens even monetized their online brand, according to the study. Those with large followings offered to give shout-outs to businesses in return for payment, and some received payment after allowing ads on personal blogs.
Gordon said that while “way more” kids are using social media responsibly than not, the findings — now compiled in an online multi-media resource — were still unsettling.
After mining social media accounts, the researcher team gathered 24 GTA students to parse through the research with them.
“A lot of them were really concerned that kids are looking in all the wrong places for community and for friendship,” said Gordon.
Some students said they’d never post a provocative photo, for fear of future repercussions, but others acknowledged popularity online can translate into real-life popularity.
According to the study, the risky online behaviour is opening up some teens to online exploitation and bullying. In some cases, other teens write abusive comments under photos, said Gordon.
She calls on parents to get involved in the conversation about responsible social media use — beyond simply adding their child to Facebook. Parents need to learn about the new platforms children are using, she said.
“We’re not saying that these tools and platforms are evil or dangerous — they’re not,” she said. “We just want kids to be thinking about… what kind of messages they’re saying.”