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The Mass Hacking of Teens Through Social Media

FEATURE / 08.09.19 / Ayla Madison

Hacking isn’t just about computers. It’s a skill. It requires keen observation, resourcefulness, and creativity. And as a teen, I see hacking all the time on social media. They’re called teen influencers. And it’s got both the good and the bad of hacking.

You see, I’m a busy person: family obligations, work, work friends, school, school friends, social media news, social media friends, memes, and that one actual friend. Sounds busy, right? So ideally if I could just do all those things at once that would be the big win.

And I’m not the only one in that situation. Most teens are. Which is why the allure of being an influencer is pretty strong.

What is an Influencer?

An influencer is a person who shares many different aspects of their life down to their food, outfits, pets, and travels to an audience of other social media users in order to sell, promote, and influence items and ideas. Their audiences can be made up by thousands and even millions of followers.

Teen influencers can make anywhere from tens of dollars a month to a few million just by reviewing toys or showing off new fashions. And there’s a reason for this: there’s huge business in getting teens to want your stuff. It’s actually one of the more lucrative positions for a company, hence the Rich White Girl Index making the rounds on Reddit.

I get you’re thinking, but that’s not a job. Actually, you’re wrong. Becoming an influencer isn’t easy; it means growing your network, constant engagement with your followers and evaluating your progress every day. Even though many people don’t consider it a job, most influencers will spend full days trying to enlarge their audiences and create content.

Influencers who make it at all make some money, even if it’s just pocket money, and those who don’t get rich will still get a fan base that would make any company a little jealous. All things that encourages influencers to be manipulative liars trying to social engineer the masses to grow in fame and wealth. And many do it.

Which is also why influencers have such a big impact on so many teenagers, it makes them want to be influencers themselves even if they don’t have many followers.

This means that a lot of teens will go out of their way to try to live the influencer life, I mean, at least in the pictures so it all seems perfect: the parties, the vacations, the memories…

How Influencers Hack Society

This social engineering is a form of hacking because they take advantage of vulnerable teens into thinking a certain way the same as one might take over a vulnerable computer.

Which is why it’s so dangerous.

One of the main issues in this industry is the fact that it’s easy for teens to access all of these social medias and try to promote their own, this causes teens to put in countless hours of work to try to become an influencer. This provokes a big change in their lives: besides the huge amount of time that is dedicated to their social media platform, it also comes with some changes like spending money on new clothes, restaurants and even trips.

I know this because most of my friends and a lot of people I know do this, they plan absolutely everything they do for more likes. That includes the clothes they wear because of course if you have the same clothes as so and so you’ll probably get more likes or the places they eat, because you shouldn’t eat somewhere that won’t get you some cool pics of the food of course. Besides this, other factors like constantly editing and planning their feed on Instagram is also a very important matter. I’ve had friends tell me they wanted to go to the beach because their feed was missing a beachy blue vibe to it.

The planned photo shoots are also really common, and I have attended some myself. Just like any other photoshoot, my friends would pack a bag full of different clothes just to get a lot of pictures with different outfits on, because of course, posting more than two pictures with the same outfit is really wrong and no real influencer would do that.

The photoshoot itself is also really stressful. I’m usually the “photographer” and I always have to do all sorts of acrobatics to get the perfect lighting and position, even if it’s funny at first, after a while of my friends crying about looking too “short” or too “tall” in the pics it gets really frustrating. They always have to look “Instagram perfect” and it annoys them to look like themselves.

Health Concerns of the Influencer Lifestyle

It annoys them to look like themselves. I said it a second time for dramatic effect because you need to pay attention to that. This is a huge issue because it really hurts their confidence and I’ve known girls going to the hospital with anorexia because their legs were too “thick” for the pictures.

It’s something really sad that has been increasing with the constant pictures on social media of what a “perfect body” is supposed to look like. It also doesn’t help that the commentators are vicious. We know we should ignore them but of course it gets to you. And online viciousness has reached plague-like levels of destruction across the human race.

Besides the photoshoots, planned clothes, locations, meals and feeds, many teens will actually start living a completely fake life online just to appear cooler. I’ve had friends post pictures with people they constantly criticize behind their backs because the picture was very aesthetic, or the person was popular. If you didn’t know them, you’d think they were great friends by looking at their social media.

Then there is the whole issue about having to deal with so many fans and haters without the proper security or support you get if you are rich and can afford it. Being an influencer makes you more vulnerable than before, since your followers are aware of your every move: when you wake up, what you eat for breakfast, what store you bought your new shirt, where you go, where you’ll be… Many purposely keep their location on at all times so they can meet up with fans and further grow their fanbase. Almost about everything is shared, and of course that’s because it’s part of the job.

Being an influencer may bring some money of course, but not right away, and even when it does it’s not enough to protect yourself. Being so public obviously becomes a danger and many influencers have had to deal with stalkers and crazy fans.

Some known online teen personalities like Hannah Rutherford had to deal with a stalker for months and months until her stalker passed away. There have also been cases of stalkers arriving at the influencer’s door steps uninvited or even waiting for them to go for their mid-day run to catch them out and about. Sadly, it has gone as far as stalkers actually harming influencers. And that’s in addition to the suicides and crazy stunts for fame leading to having them harm themselves.

Is Being a Teen Influencer Worth It?

So, you see, all of this is not just the struggles of a job. This isn’t a roll-up-your sleeves and get a hard day’s work in. This isn’t even the tale of how success requires sacrifice. This is a clear trade of a healthy, psychological and emotional well-being for the chance to be more important. Because it really is a gamble.

Even if a lucky few are capable of engaging a considerable audience, most don’t. And they also have sucked themselves dry, psychologically, to get there.

Unfortunately, it’s also not happiness and sunshine for the teens on social media who just follow the influencers and don’t try to be one. Social media is setting false and unrealistic standards for them. The constant comparison of what the “influencer life” is with the “normal” life makes teens feel uncomfortable with their own lives and creates a lot of self-doubt which then leads to wanting to have what the happy influencers have too, even if these influencers aren’t as happy as they show off online.

I’m not trying to say that influencers are lying and are bad people for trying to show off the best of themselves, but they definitely are lying and bad people for trying to manipulate the masses. I get it that it’s normal for humans in general to show their best qualities in front of other people, especially if they have whole lot of other people in their audience observing their each and every move but it does create unrealistic standards for many teens.

This has started to change with some influencers that have gone out of their way to show their following that social media like Instagram or Facebook aren’t reality. Many times, before posting a picture they share that there has been a planned outfit, location, pose and various filters to give out the full “living the amazing life” effect. They show the real side of it too like a before and after.

This is really important to know about especially for teens that are exposed to these type of pictures all day long and think that influencers don’t have any bad days, but that’s obviously not true, just because they post fancy pictures online doesn't mean they aren’t human with ups and downs.

So, while the influencer job seems like a dream job for many teens out there, manipulating the rest of the world into buying what you buy and eating what you eat, it’s also one of the riskiest ones. There is constant exposure that these online personalities have to live. It means having thousands or millions of people constantly judging your every move and having endless amounts of information about your life, and it is obvious that influencers don’t even know who most of their followers are. So, if the stalkers and trolls don’t get you, the depression and exhaustion will.

Because in the end, if they don’t put up interesting and new content all the time, they become irrelevant. Practically overnight. That’s the coldest, most sudden influencer end. Just like this one.

Ayla Madison

About Ayla Madison

Ayla Madison is a teen from ISECOM's Hacker Highschool project that has presented three times at the RSA Conference in San Francisco about teens and cybersecurity.

Ayla also illustrated How The Hacker Stole Christmas when she was 14 and is currently illustrating another book for Hacker Highschool called Hack this Book. She's currently studying art at the University of Barcelona and spreading the word that hacking isn't just about computers.