Warning for social media users in South Africa

 ·9 Aug 2023

Social media may seem like harmless fun, but it is incredibly addictive and can compromise one’s privacy.

According to security awareness training company KnowBe4’s Anna Collard, social media platforms are incredibly lucrative and are designed to exploit human psychology by triggering dopamine in the brain to keep the user online.

“The logic is simple, the longer we stay, the more advertising we consume. This can make us behave in ways that are not healthy for us, and we need to find a balance,” Collard said.

When social media is used, dopamine gives the user a false sense of happiness that quickly dissipates.

“Dopamine is keeping people in a loop of liking, swiping, watching, and engaging. It convinces the mind that this activity brings joy. With social media and digital devices, people are all addicts as they turn there for validation, entertainment and attention,” she said.

Despite social media making people feel like they are getting happier, she said that people are actually growing increasingly unhappy due to the negative effects of the platforms.

“People are overwhelmed with images and expectations and advertising that never let our minds relax and that keep influencing us on a subconscious level,” she added.

“Algorithms are built to serve us content which confirms our biases and likes. The longer we stay, the more we share what we like or dislike, which feeds into these algorithms, serving us more addictive content.”

Privacy risk

Social media also has privacy risks, with platforms having large amounts of data on users.

Last year, TikTok admitted that its employees used the app to spy on reporters to try identify sources.

“This may have caused outrage and concern, especially across public sector institutions in the U.S., UK and Europe, but it should also make consumers question what they share publicly and how their information is protected,” Collard said.

She added that privacy regulations differ between countries, and there are concerns over how private information is stored and protected in specific countries.

“Then there are the dangers this poses to your identity. A digital footprint can be used to scam you or steal your identity; most people do not realise how much information they give away when they are online.”

She added that there needs to be a large regulatory framework that protects users in countries where social media platforms operate.

Furthermore, people also need to be further educated on the possible dangers of putting information online, as a digital footprint can be hard to erase.

Images on social media can now jeopardise people’s reputations and lives, as they can be used for cybercrime, fraud, and child exploitation.

“To manage the addiction and the impact of social media on digital and mental well-being, people should limit their use, avoid sharing personal images, especially of minors, and be careful of what kind of information is shared. The likes are not worth the risk, she said.

Read: South Africa nails Google for ‘anti-competitive processes’ – demands big changes

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