By Harun Yahya
TODAY, there are about two billion Facebook and 1.4 billion YouTube active users on social media. Instagram users are around 700 million. If we add 350 million Snapchat and 330 million Twitter users to this number, it would not be wrong to say that the one third of the world’s population is in communication with each other.
This community’s daily post numbers are well beyond imagination. Facebook users upload an average of eight billion items of content every 24 hours. The total duration of the videos uploaded to YouTube every day reaches 400,000 hours. During the same timespan, 500 million tweets are posted while 350 million photographs are uploaded on Instagram.
In time, this gigantic communication network laid down its own rules. Receiving “Likes” on Instagram or Facebook, being “Retweeted” on Twitter, and getting views on YouTube have become a new measure of success among people.
Since the day Facebook went online, the “Like” button was clicked 1.2 trillion times. Instagram, meanwhile, gets 4.5 billion “likes” each and every day. This statistical data is an indication of a new addiction at our door.
Being liked, recognized and getting ahead of other users on social media has now turned into a new obsession for people. Considering the fact that the 60% of social media users are under the age of 30, this will soon become one of the greatest issues for our world.
For many social media users, their lives online come before their real lives. They share every waking moment of their lives with tens of thousands of strangers. They took all sorts of risks to be able to gain recognition among the digital community and get more “Likes.”
They climb up buildings, bridges, mountains; they take selfies underground, in deep seas and at some of the most dangerous spots on earth. They do not hesitate to put their lives on the line to that end. All of this extreme lifestyle serves only one purpose; getting as many likes as possible on the social media.
To be able to gain the upper hand in the “Like” race, they do not refrain from bending the truth and presenting their lives as better than it actually is. According to research conducted by Kaspersky Labs, one in ten bends the truth and pretends to be someone they are not in order to get more likes on social media.
In other words, what once was an instrument of fun has now become a purpose. For many, the internet is not simply a virtual world; it has become a social reality, and being liked on social media is now more important than being liked in real life.
This desire to be virtually liked has Facebook users click the “Like” button 4.5 billion times per day; that’s 3.2 million times a minute. Today, it’s almost impossible to imagine a world where the “Like” button does not exist.
With the virtual world starting to take precedence over real life, psychological diseases have also taken on a digital nature. “Fear of Missing Out,” or FOMO, has been the subject of recent academic studies.
Notable international magazines such as TIME published articles discussing the methods of fighting against this psychological disorder brought about by the social media. The Oxford English Dictionary added FOMO disorder to its dictionary as “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere.”
FOMO poses a serious threat, especially for the Millennial generation, the principal users of the social media. This young generation under the age of 18 starts to feel bad when their tweets are not retweeted or their Facebook posts do not get likes; the existence of more popular accounts drives them to depression. The University of Copenhagen also named this disorder as “Facebook envy.”
This darker side of social media drives people who are already troubled over the edge. According to the picture revealed by the World Health Organization (WHO), one person committed suicide every 40 seconds last year.
That means about 800,000 people took their own lives all around the world. A substantial portion of this number is comprised of young people between the ages of 19 and 24. Suicide ranks second among the leading causes of death for this age group. In other words, a major part of the world’s youth is living on the edge, in a state of mind that considers suicide a solution to their problems.
Social media only adds more fuel to this fire. It became popular to broadcast suicides live on the social media. In 2008, after information that using hydrogen sulfite gas is a convenient way of committing suicide was shared on a Japanese message board, 220 people committed suicide using this method.
In another incident, following the suicide of a person in New Zealand, eight more ended their lives, affected by a memorial page written for the deceased. Meanwhile, a computer game titled “Blue Whale” led to 130 teen suicides in Russia alone. This social media mania, dubbed as “the Suicide Challenge,” first emerged as a Facebook group.
A gang of depraved characters created a psychological process, starting with teens being pressured into harming themselves and ultimately resulting in suicide. Influenced by the game Blue Whale, many teens between the ages of 15 and 18 in India, Britain and Europe ended their lives as well. Today, studies have come to explicitly reveal that social media has an encouraging aspect when it comes to suicides.
The fact that communication between people is rapidly increasing with the advent of social media is in essence an elating development. Technological advancements, the likes of which our elders never witnessed in their lifetime, have taken place in the span of a few years.
People get to know each other and socialize. A shared culture is developing; people are able to call each other to what is good and beautiful more effectively. Our world is preparing together for a better future.
In this regard, social media is indubitably an important medium of communication and cultivating new friendships. It rests with us to ensure that this medium is not used for wrong purposes and that it does not become a medium catering to methods of evil and depression for the young.
The most vital duty that rests on us is to prevent this great opportunity from going astray, and to make sure that it contributes to the advancement of our civilization. What the world needs is a digital life that is put in order by social rules, that leads people on the path of good and peace, and that invites people to unity.
*Adnan Oktar, best known by his pen-name Harun Yahya, is an influential Turkish spiritual leader, author, and opinion shaper.
*The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Times (TMT).