It is a common notion (even researched to some extent), that the internet leads to depression, and low self-esteem (e.g. Akin & Iskender, 2011, showed positive correlation between internet addiction and stress, anxiety and depression). But what people do not try to bring into this debate is how the internet, despite so many innumerable drawbacks, is a necessity. Evidence also suggests that if you are not on Facebook, for instance, you will be perceived as a sociopath by your employers (Baker, 2012). Among all this, how does one decipher the valence of utility of the internet? There are certain points to be kept in mind. First, most research simply correlate depression and suicide with internet addiction. Correlation does not imply causality. There may be a high possibility that people who are more vulnerable to depression or suicide or both are the ones who get easily addicted to the internet in the first place. Second point is that all research in this arena are about “addiction” more than simple usage of internet. So to say that the internet leads to depression is a wrong statement. Addiction of any kind has some underlying psychological phenomenon that may be both a cause and a consequence of the addiction. Third, majority of the research is conducted in the urban population, among the undergraduate or college-going student, which is not exactly “representative” of the entire population. Lastly, there is hardly any control group for comparison – a group which does not use internet, in order to check if the resultant effect of depression is due to internet, or something else altogether, possibly pertaining to a certain age cohort.
Having outlined the above cases, one must shift focus to the destructive forces of the human mind. It is strange how the mind is capable of devising new ways of committing murder, currently through the internet. Given how widespread its usage is, it was only a matter of time before people started misusing it to satiate the hunger of taking away someone’s life – the power over another human that it brings with it. There have been so many instances where abetment to suicide has been carried out simply through the usage of social media. More prominent these days is the case of the Blue Whale game. The Blue Whale game attacks that which is most vulnerable in teenagers – the need for acceptance, appreciation and the idea of being “cool” enough. Now that scores of articles are blaming the game for the increase in suicide among the youngsters, can anyone question as to why such “needs” manifest in such a way that these young minds are lured into something so dangerous, so easily? Who is the actual murderer here?
I believe that it is not the game that is to be blamed, but the social conditioning with which youngsters grow up. It is that of social comparison. I see social media as merely a platform – irrespective of how vast and far-reaching it is – for social comparison. The whole idea that one needs to be better than the other is something that is instilled in children, much earlier in life. It starts with comparison among siblings and peers, goes onto the academic sphere, to finally manifest in the social media platforms. The creator of the Blue Whale game, Phillipp Budeikin, is of the view that kids who succumb to these tasks need “cleansing” – which is removing them from the face of the Earth. So, he targets the social issues that the female and the male genders face (while the effect is not clear, but perhaps, in no way less among the other genders). For girls, it is the attack on their physical appearance; for boys, it is the hurt to their “ego” – that they “will always be losers”. So here, I ask again. Is it the Blue Whale game which has initiated these thoughts, or is it the process of socialization that has made children of both genders succumb to the pressure of either “looking good”, or “being a winner”?
In conclusion, social media may be seen as a predator on the vulnerabilities that the process of socialization has been creating and feeding. It cannot be said for sure that such insecurities did not exist before the times of the internet. Perhaps, it has become more prominent because everything that happens in an individual’s life anywhere in the world, is easily accessible through the internet – whether by posts of the individual, or through news reports. One cannot blame the “present generation” because of the faults of the generations before the current one. One may take down this particular game, but it will still be greatly inadequate to stop other kinds of internet murders from mushrooming. The only solution, then, is to tackle the problem at a socialization level – to make youngsters so empowered that they do not fall prey to such games, or any newer versions that the destructive human mind can come up with.
REFERENCES Akin, A. and Iskender, M. (2011). Internet Addiction and Depression, Anxiety and Stress. International Online Journal of Educational Sciences, 3(1), 138-148. Baker, K.J.M. (2012, August 7). If you are not on Facebook, you’re probably a sociopath. Retrieved from http://www.google.co.in/amp/s/jezebel.com/5932465/if-youre- not-on- facebook-youre- probably-a- sociopath/ Grohol, J.M. (2017, July 13). The Blue Whale Challenge is real, sad & frightening. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2017/07/13/the-blue- whale- challenge-is- real-sad- frightening/ Antima. (2017, September 7). Antima’s answer to What is the Psychology behind blue whale game. Retrieved from http://www.quora.com/What-is- the-psychology- behind- blue-whale- game
Mitakshara Medhi is a graduate of Lady Shri Ram College (Psychology), Delhi University.
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