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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Social media kills

26 June 2019

Before I get on to the main topic of today's column, a word about silly press releases.

Science Daily is a site I check on quite regularly. It's a simple concept... companies, universities and other bodies regularly send out press releases. The goal is often to help raise money for continued research of the commercialisation of ideas. To do that you need to "spread the word".

By collating these press releases into a "news-like" site, Science Daily provides a useful resource -- albeit you have to take much of what you read there with a grain of salt, in full awareness that these are often covert funding pitches.

Which brings me to this release published today.

Excuse me? Seriously? What the?

This has to be the least fact-filled release I think I've ever read.

To paraphrase, some boffins have developed some new memory which is really cool because it's fast and durable. It's patented but we're not going to tell you anything more than to say that it will change the world and save us heaps of energy.

Get out of here... and come back when you've got some facts and real information to give us... don't waste our time with fluff like this!

But now to the title of today's column -- yes, social media has claimed a(nother) life.

According to this BBC story, a YouTube content creator running with the pseudonym "Etika" has committed suicide after posting a disturbing video to his channel.

Police have reportedly found and identified his body after he apparently jumped from a bridge.

He's not the first YouTuber to have suffered mental health issues, seemingly related to the relentless pressure placed upon "influencers" and those in the social-media spotlight.

It has in fact become quite trendy for big-numbers YTers to post videos about how they're getting burned out and how the pressure to produce regular, fresh content is crushing them.

Well I'm a YTer with hundreds of thousands of subscribers. I am reliant on this for my living. I have to publish regular content to pay my bills. I have had to deal with YouTube's constantly changing rules, conditions, restrictions and policies. Am I about to burn-out or commit suicide?

Nah!

The rules of the game are pretty simple.

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen... or at least find a cooler kitchen in which to cook.

Yeah, I bitch and moan about the hassles of dealing with a company that has forgotten its roots and is now working very hard to turn itself into just another online TV broadcaster -- but it's my choice to stay.

I'm growing increasingly sure that at some stage I will ditch YouTube as a platform, once the irritation of dealing with Google reaches a point where the rewards no longer outweigh the frustration. I won't be getting all bent and twisted to the point of taking my own life, hell there's preciously little enough of that resource left as it is.

However, I do have sympathy for those (invariably much younger than myself) who have only ever known life as a social media success story. They've never had to engage in the toil and work that regular folk do on a daily basis. I can see how they might think that no longer being paid simply for being famous would be a fate worse than death.

Will Google, Instagram or Twitter care that someone has taken their life?

Of course they will... content producers are the things that attract advertisers -- but I don't think anyone at corporate HQ will shed a tear because for every creator that burns out, thousands more are waiting to take their place and hoping that they too will get paid for being famous.

I also shudder when I see kids being asked what they want to do as a career and telling a camera that they want to be a famous YouTuber or to have millions of followers on Instagram. Seriously, I hope these kids have a backup plan.

So do we need to regulate social media -- after all, Etika isn't the first and he won't be the last person to die as a direct result of the pressures that social media places on those who follow and those who are followed via such mechanisms. Yes, social media can and does kill.

Nah... let's ramp up the regulations on toy drones instead. I know that nobody has ever been killed as a result of recreational multi-rotor drone use -- but if we regulate social media, billions of people will complain. Regulating drones will be so much easier, there are far fewer drone users than social media users and besides, who cares about a few deaths -- they're only kids, right?

What a strange world in which we live (and die).

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