Lurking: digital anonymity

TikTok video app

Social media users are mostly anonymous online and do not produce their own content.


(Photo: dpa)

Dusseldorf They are like stars: always there, but often invisible. Unfortunately, whoever coined this comparison first can no longer be reconstructed. It is still suitable – because this type of Internet user actually has a lot in common with the celestial bodies.

Lurkers, derived from the English “to lurk” (lurking), use social media platforms and discussion forums in camouflage mode. Some leaf through the Instagram profiles of colleagues, others browse through the Twitter– Messages from celebrities or hours spent consuming TikTok videos – without ever interacting with the people in question or revealing themselves as regular visitors.

In fact, lurking has become the most widely used method of using the Internet: Most people tend to consume foreign content anonymously instead of producing their own.

Of course, this anonymity is, in a way, a naive illusion. Each Google-Search feeds the algorithm. Anyone with something Facebook searches, it gets displayed on Instagram a little later. For networks like Xing or Linkedin can at least see the paying users at any time who was on their own profile. And on Instagram, everyone can understand who has watched their own “stories”.

However, this permanent transparency does not reduce the appeal of lurking, on the contrary. US journalist Katie Notopoulos recently reported in one text worth reading at the Buzzfeed portal about her passion for lurking – and at the same time admitted that she has a very ambivalent relationship to virtual shadow existence.

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On the one hand, it is simply a lot of fun to indulge in the social media profiles of strangers for hours. On the other hand, she is of course aware that there are more sensible ways to invest lifetime.

But are we being punished for this digital loitering? Notopoulos also asked himself this – and therefore contacted Joseph Firth, who is studying at Western Sydney University in Australia how internet use affects our brains. And the journalist gave the all-clear: “At least there is no evidence that the virtual encounter with strangers differs from the encounter in analogue life.”

Apparently our brains are quite well equipped to deal with constant contact with strangers.

More: Daniel Rettig is editor-in-chief of the digital education platform ada. If you want to understand tomorrow today, have a look: join-ada.com

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