“It’s vicarious trauma and many journalists who cover beats like crime, terrorism and politics face this.”

I’m sitting in my therapist’s office on a Thursday morning while the infamous Mumbai rains pour down outside. I have to leave for work in about 20 minutes and cover whatever it is that the rich and famous are doing that day. While writing about the latest fashion trend may not get your adrenaline pumping as much as compiling a detailed report on the Aadhaar mess does, it sure is way less traumatising. Covering crime is not for the faint of heart but then again, the entire profession (media) requires immense patience, a backbone made of steel and an ability to consume unhealthy amounts of coffee. But I digress.

The topic in discussion is digital suicide – a term and phenomenon that I’ve often been seduced by, increasingly so in the past two years. Urban Dictionary defines it as “deleting all or most of your information from the internet namely social networking sites such as your facebook, twitter, xanga accounts”.  It is no secret that a vast majority of the globe is addicted to social media and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Social media has worked wonders for all of us – it has given a voice to the voiceless, it has democratised conversation and helped us connect with people who we would, perhaps, never have met. Take the recent floods in Kerala for example. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were used as tools to spread information, call out fake news, mobilise support and help volunteers reach out to the affected. 

However, there is the terrific reality that our data is being collected and often misused. What seemed like incoherent rankings a year or so ago has been confirmed by white hat hackers who have shown us just how much big corporations know about us. Then, of course, there’s the issue of mental health. 

According to a report by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) in 2017, Instagram was the worst app when it came to the youth’s mental health. It was closely followed by Snapchat. These apps tend to distort reality and can lead to depression, body dysmorphia and anxiety. As they say, nobody is Snapchatting or Instagramming their low moments – intense curation on these mobile applications leads people to believe that everyone is enjoying a lit life while you sit all alone at home.

Now, we all know that the Internet is forever – a scary fact but there’s nothing one can do about it. While professionals will always manage to dig out your past, by following the steps mentioned below, you can reclaim some of your privacy:

  1. Delete all your social media accounts – Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr etc.
  2. If you wanna go the extreme route and delete your email ids as well, you’ll need to sign into your Google account, hit “Close account and delete all services and info associated with it.”
  3. Google yourself – your name, pictures and various accounts should turn up. Thorin Klosowski, writing for Life Hacker, recommends that you mail the website hosting the content and ask them to remove it. If that doesn’t work, you can appeal to the search engine to remove it directly but that doesn’t always work. 
  4. Now, what you need to do is head to sites like Zabsearch, Intelius and Pipl and check for any remaining data still available on the Internet. It’s a time-consuming process but Life Hacker recommends services like DeleteMe which will do the work for a certain amount of money.

“Going off Instagram really cleared up my schedule. It’s not just about having the time to read books or do productive stuff – it just helped me avoid unnecessary conversations and meet-ups,” says Amala Poli who recently returned from Spain and was bombarded with messages from friends and family on the social media app.

“I think that initially, it was more of an individual choice. However, now I think it has become a generational thing, you know? There’s a majority who are obsessed with social media and creating a ‘brand’ but I’ve encountered a lot of people who just want to vanish from the net,” Alistar Bennis, a theatre artiste said during a conversation. Bennis, like most Millennials, feel the need to build an online brand for work purposes. However, he now questions whether it actually works that way.

While committing digital suicide sounds like a great step in our ongoing quest for personal freedom, it must also be noted that not many are privileged enough to even consider it. There are actors, models and journalists whose jobs depend on their being on social media. A Kareena Kapoor Khan or an Anna Wintour have achieved such heights that they can stay off off social media (officially, at least) and still be all over it. Like dealing with any addiction, going off mobile apps takes a hell of a lot of willpower. It won’t be easy but is it worth it? Well, ask any recovering addict and you’ll know.

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