A year without Facebook – A social experiment

Aim: Spend a year without using Facebook (in my personal capacity).

Hypothesis: I will successfully complete the year and reach personal enlightenment and recover from the need to broadcast my life on social media.

OR

Find a loophole to keep using Facebook, thus remaining a narcissist by the end of the trial.

Apparatus: The internet.

Method: Use the internet, but not Facebook. This means no posting updates, pictures or videos. No viewing or sharing posts and liking or commenting on posts from my personal account. In fact, deactivate my account and delete the app on my smartphone.

Results: I found a loophole.

Discussion of findings: My reason for abstaining from Facebook for a year was primarily to save data costs. I was also social media fatigued (I think). I was a slave to my smartphone. I would constantly glance down to see new updates on my timeline, only to find that the last person to send out an update was me.

That’s right, I was the most exciting person on my timeline. I knew that couldn’t be true, because my life isn’t that eventful. And that’s when I realized I was a cooler person online than in real life.

I embarked on a personal intervention and deactivated my account, without any warning. There was no: “This is my last status update for a long time,” to inform friends. There was no clean-up operation to “unlike” pages, exit groups or “un-share” posts. I imagine this must be what it feels like to join a witness protection programme.

This was not my first attempt at quitting Facebook. I’ve done it twice before. The last time I deactivated my account, I spent a solid six months Facebook-free. The purge was good… Until I caved.

I felt like my behavior was worse when I came back. It happened incrementally. At first I would share posts instead of constructing my own updates. That would happen once every few days. Eventually I was posting once a day.

The egotistical monster got a hold on me again, there I was, constantly viewing screens for updates. These updates weren’t necessarily posts by others, but rather, how many new notifications I received. How many people liked my post? Who commented? Who isn’t, and why not? Not looking at my timeline for an hour was an achievement.

My updates weren’t about me… but they were. Sure, it wasn’t always about the food I was eating, the places I was going to or who I was with. These were carefully constructed thoughts to reflect my wit. These “clever” observations of the world were just disguised self-glorification.

You might think that I’m being dramatic. But I would save unpublished statuses on my notepad which I had scheduled to post at a later stage. (This is the part in group therapy where I admit that I have a problem).

I was so far gone, I wasn’t only seeking validation and self- worth in Facebook, but my very existence hinged on it.

Not getting Facebook likes made me feel unloved. My train of thought would diverge into two extremes. If my post didn’t get likes, then the post wasn’t as funny as I thought it was, which means my sense of humour must be broken. Or, there was nothing wrong with me, but there was something wrong with everyone else. They’re all stupid and I need new friends.

So not having Facebook, was refreshing. During the first week I found myself glancing at my smartphone, without having anything to look at besides my wallpaper. That’s when I realized I was too dependent on it. I wasn’t living in reality, I was living online. I was so far gone, I wasn’t only seeking validation and self- worth in Facebook, but my very existence hinged on it.

My fears of replacing Facebook with another form of social media came true. I replaced it with Twitter. But fortunately, with Twitter no one can feed into your vanity, unless you have plenty followers who engage with you. Also, you’re competing with bigger names on Twitter. So I gave up on Twitter and latched onto Instagram. (I know, so much for curbing my data spending).

Once again, I was feeding off likes which served as an assessment of my photography skills. It wasn’t long before I discovered the power of captions. They were another way to share my thoughts. The caption became my status update, and the picture was a bonus. Now people could see what I was seeing. And I had a cool filter to make my feat look even cooler than it really was. (I need to find another adjective for “cooler”).

There was also WhatsApp. I found myself texting friends during the day. I would share BuzzFeed posts, screenshots of tweets and Instagram posts via WhatsApp and email. But people didn’t respond too well to that, I texted them more often than they texted me. Again, I went down that spiral of feeling unloved.

Then there’s work, the very undoing of my social experiment. I manage the social media accounts for work. So I hadn’t distanced myself from Facebook as far as I would’ve liked. In defence of maintaining whatever shred of integrity is left in this flawed experiment, posting for a company is different to posting from your personal account.

Companies use their social media strategically, to build networks and reach specific audiences. It’s more purposeful than running your own account where you just keep up with news about your buddies. And there was a lot of things I missed out on; engagement announcements, job promotions, graduations and birthdays. (A heck of a lot of birthdays). That’s when I noticed my friends were also dependent on Facebook to stay social.

There were a few useful things I learnt. When used correctly, social media can help build your brand, especially if you’re a young professional who’s trying to network and promote a purposeful message. However, my message was a loud clanging noise that screamed out “ME!”

I hate that I used Facebook as an outlet to promote a false reality of life. Real life is nothing like Facebook. We are not meant to exist on digital platforms.

To cure myself of boredom, I found a few “old school” activities to keep busy. I started reading more, paperback too. I also started listening to podcasts. (I’d recommend that – you can learn so much about the world and people). I also developed new hobbies like running. Not documenting the parts of the world I was discovering was refreshing. It granted me some degree of anonymity.

Life was simpler, like when I was younger. Where memories were made and saved in my head, not the internet.

I made more effort with my friendships. Instead of keeping in touch online, I would visit my friends more. Physically hanging out with people is more constructive than just following posts. That’s where the real relationship building happens. I even started phoning my friends again. Hearing their voices and not just reading their texts was pretty awesome. (That fellow Alexander Graham Bell was really onto something).

Life was simpler, like when I was younger. Where memories were made and saved in my head, not the internet. They became awesome stories to share with people, using words from my mouth! Just sitting and waiting, with nothing to occupy my hands or my mind was so freeing.

On the flipside of this free time I had to myself, I noticed how others were so glued to their phones. People don’t just sit around and enjoy each other’s company anymore. Their heads are bowed, eyes staring squarely at screens. They’re social with people online, when there are people right in front of them. It made me think of all the awesome people I never met because I was so closed off to the real world.

Conclusion: The real challenge begins. Do I return to Facebook? Frankly speaking, if I had to reactivate my Facebook account, then I suspect it would be similar to an ex-junkie relapsing into addiction.

I know I shouldn’t go back, for the sake of my mental health. Seriously, being on a site that’s all about me will end up killing my brain cells prematurely. Self-worship will be my undoing.

It would be ideal if I could quit all social media permanently.

But I can’t. Firstly, for professional reasons, as journalists we use Twitter as a tool to source and broadcast stories. Instagram is also hopping onto that wagon.

Secondly, I will never be truly free of social media. Instant messaging is social media, and to an extant email is too. I use these mediums to communicate and keep in touch with people. So I’ll be lying if I said I quit social media, because I’d still be using it in some way, maybe not as explicitly as using Facebook.

There are two things of which I am certain:

  1. I should not return to Facebook.
  2. I am still the self- loving person I was before I quit Facebook.

There is one thing of which I am uncertain. And that is whether I will be successful in avoiding Facebook for the rest of my life.

Every now and then I read a post online about the dangers of social media, with fraud and identity theft rising. Also, watching people destroy their careers on social media through their thoughtless posts is also keeping me off Facebook. But I don’t know if these reasons are sustainable.

There is a strong possibility that I will cave, again. I almost gave in for the last two weeks of this challenge.

Was my social experiment a success? In many ways it was conflicted. I found loopholes but there were some wins.

For one, it feels great to have some part of my life remain a mystery. Whenever I meet new people, they can’t find my Facebook profile online, so they can’t suss me out from my updates or pictures. I have enjoyed this short-term anonymity, but it isn’t a long term option for me.

I could join Facebook again and be consumed by my self-love. Or I can continue using other forms of social media, taking a more disciplined approach for professional purposes.

Leaving one question … Is it too late to get a pseudonym?

Managing fraud risk in your business

Gone are the days of the Stander game where guys run into banks with guns and take cash. “People aren’t stealing money like that anymore. They’re stealing money from behind a laptop,” says Kevin Hogan of Investec Bank.

At the Investec Business Matters conference held recently, Hogan shared practical ways in which businesses could protect themselves from fraud risk. Referencing Gareth van Zyl’s Fin24 article, Hogan says that R5.8bn was lost to cybercrime in 2014.

Fraudsters can install software that lies dormant on devices and can bypass anti-virus measures. It takes about 200 days before an organisation detects an online breach of its systems. Using anti-virus against malware is like sending a mouse to fight a lion, says Hogan.

In 69% of cases, just by clicking a link victims download a virus to their device with malware or Trojans.

Cybercrime often takes place through email and telephone hacking. Fraudsters send billions of phishing emails randomly into cyberspace. These emails often contain links for the receiver to click or often require victims to submit their email accounts and passwords under the pretence of a bank or reputable company. This allows fraudsters to intercept future messages with important information, like banking details. In 69% of cases, just by clicking a link victims download a virus to their device with malware or Trojans.

“Hackers send us emails to move your money… In 2013 we lost R5.8m to one email hack,” says Hogan. He advises businesses that get instructions sent by email or telephonically to authenticate that it came from the actual client. Fraudsters will go as far as to send bank statements to prove client details. False documents are easy to pick up, but Hogan says that the risk comes in when there are bank employees who collude with fraudsters, giving them real statements.

In a case where a fraudster hacked a client’s account by telephone, the fraudster managed to bypass security questions by accessing personal information on the client’s Facebook account. Hogan says that people often repeat the details of their email accounts and passwords for other internet accounts (social media and online banking).

In collusion with “unscrupulous” cell phone service provider staff, fraudsters conduct SIM-swaps on phones, moving the client’s number to another SIM card. This allows them to intercept messages from banks with details about one-time passwords and USSD messages for online transactions, allowing fraudsters to bypass authentication measures.

As a result of telephone hacking, Hogan says that Investec has introduced voice biometrics to authenticate the client’s voice over the phone.

How to protect your business:

  1. Do not respond to any email asking for your email address and password, it is unlikely anyone wants it for legitimate reasons.
  2. Do not click on links if you are not 100% sure as to what you are clicking, especially if they come from friends or acquaintances.
  3. Make use of additional authorisation/authentication i.e. two-factor authentication is useful, in addition to accessing your email by password, a one-time pin is sent to your cell-phone for you to use.
  4. Proactively manage MUA accesses. Manage the access levels different staff have to authorise instructions and when staff members leave or resign, withdraw their authorisation privileges.

Hogan further explains the methods that Investec uses to protect client’s cash:

  1. Authentication before funds are transferred or when confidential client information is supplied. The company makes outbound phone calls to the client to confirm instructions by email.
  2. Proactive monitoring of online banking sessions to detect Trojans, malware and account takeovers.
  3. Recovery of funds. When your business falls prey to a scam, actions are taken to contact other banks to freeze accounts to secure funds and recover the money lost. Hogan says it is important for clients to inform the bank that they suspect they have been scammed. “The faster you let us know, the faster we can get your money back.”
  4. Update clients on new fraud trends and alerts. Protecting clients’ funds is a joint responsibility of the bank and the clients, so it is important to inform and educate clients on ways to protect themselves.

People should be taught to navigate the internet responsibly, says Hogan. There are a number of fake websites online, he advises people to type out the full URL when surfing the web, instead of just clicking a link to access a site. Additionally, people should not save passwords on their devices, as it gets stored on browsers which are vulnerable to malware that can record them. He also says that people should set up their computers to delete history every time it switches off, especially after conducting online transactions.

*This article was featured on Finweek.com.

Different Life: Life insurance that makes you feel good about making a difference

DREAM TEAM: Different Life's team of executives. (From Left:Andrew Lester (CMO), Luthando Mthaulana (CFO), Philip Tomlinson (CEO) and Front: Atholl Tomlinson (CTO | COO)). Photo: Provided

DREAM TEAM: Different Life’s team of executives. (From Left:Andrew Lester (CMO), Luthando Mthaulana (CFO), Philip Tomlinson (CEO) and Front: Atholl Tomlinson (CTO | COO)). Photo: Provided

Business and philanthropy can co-exist and brothers Atholl and Philip Tomlinson, co-founders of internet-based life insurance company Different Life, have incorporated this dual business model.

Different Life. PTY (Ltd) is the “business engine” that sustains their online crowdfunding philanthropy platform Different.org, explains CEO Philip Tomlinson.  “The non-profit side is the focus. You can’t do anything without resources.  The resources come from the for-profit side,” he says.

Recognising that NGOs cannot scale to address the magnitude of social problems, combined with the technology gap in the life insurance industry, they decided to launch a technology-driven company that focuses on maximising impact over profit. “The offering is a chance to get a top quality insurance product and at the same time to have a very material impact on South Africa,” Philip told Finweek.

Different Life is structured along the lines of internet start-ups like Whatsapp or Uber as opposed to traditional financial services businesses, says Philip. It is a registered intermediary and is underwritten by Old Mutual Alternative Risk Transfer Limited and reinsured by Hannover Re. Life insurance policies started being sold in November 2014 and the company was officially launched on 12 March 2015.

Different Life takes advantage of the cost efficiencies of technology by offering a digital experience to the customer to engage online and buy financial services products, says Philip. There is also a call centre for customers to contact consultants who provide information about the product, but not advice. However there is potential in the market to incorporate technology-supported advice in future, he says.

The product is competitive with industry players, says CTO Atholl Tomlinson. The pricing is competitive and the process is seamless, simple and quick. “It literally takes you 10 seconds to get a quote and 10-15 minutes later you have your policy, which nobody else can do,” he says.

Life insurance with a difference

The Different Donation is the idea where the first premium and subsequent annual anniversary premiums of a policyholder is allocated to a project of their choice on Different.org. Unlike other platforms which take a percentage of money donated to a cause as commission, Atholl explains the total of the proceeds go to the cause.

Clients are given feedback about the projects via social media, this includes mini-documentaries. This serves as a “cost-effective” way of life insurance marketing which will raise more capital for Different.org projects by recruiting more clients through “shares” on social media.

Life insurance is a necessity. Something everyone should have regardless of what the economy looks like.

“We think it’s a very nice model in terms of the  synergy of the for-profit and the non-profit working together, to both make a difference in South Africa and hopefully  be a successful business,” says Atholl.

Current, turbulent economic times didn’t deter them from launching the product which includes life and disability cover up to R10m, monthly salary protection up to R90000 and critical illness cover up to R5m.  According to Philip, there I still opportunity for growth, especially with an “efficient business model”. “It’s not a luxury purchase. Life insurance is a necessity. Something everyone should have regardless of what the economy looks like,” he adds.

There are future plans to expand adjacently to other financial services beyond life insurance. As for Different.org, they hope it will grow from a “crowd-funding philanthropy platform” to an “expertise hub for philanthropy”, says Philip.

*This article was featured in Finweek magazine.

INFOGRAPHIC: 10 years of Vuvuzela

By Roxanne Joseph and Lameez Omarjee

This year marks 10 years since Wits Vuvuzela was first published. The award-winning community newspaper first launched its website in 2005 and since then, has gone on to publish its content on other forms of social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and  YouTube.

This infographic was featured in the Wits Vuvuzela

10-years-of-Wits-Vuvuzela

Confessions of a social media addict

ANTI-SOCIAL?: Recent anti-social media campaigns have criticised ‘Generation Y’ of being out of touch with the world. Photo: Lameez Omarjee

ANTI-SOCIAL?: Recent anti-social media campaigns have criticised ‘Generation Y’ of being out of touch with the world. Photo: Lameez Omarjee

Hi, my name is Lameez and I am addicted to social media.

They say the first step to recovery is admission. Only, I am not in denial and I have no plans to recover. I think Mark Zuckerberg is gangsta and the only regret I have is not dropping out of school to start a multi-billion dollar company by the age of 23, myself. If this journalism thing does not work out, I am asking Mark for a job, to put my B.Com to good use.

Anti-social media campaigns have ironically gone viral. I have seen the videos. I recognize myself, looking at the screens and not “being in touch” with the world. And? They are not entirely objective.

The video where the man misses the chance to meet the love of his life because he is too busy looking down at his screen, and subsequently misses the feeling of holding his grandson in his arms, thirty years later is SO DRAMATIC. Seriously? I can Google tons of people who found love on the internet, they are all on Craigslist.

People say social media makes you more anti-social, what the deuce? (I learnt that from reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s, Sherlock Holmes, not from listening to Chris Brown. So, contrary to popular belief, I am a youth who actually reads).

Sure, I hate it when my dad does not hear what I say because he is too busy playing Candy Crush on his iPad, but have you ever played Candy Crush? Have you watched Vines? Do you know YouTube? Does free messaging sound valuable to you? I know more because of Google. How phenomenal- a search engine, literally at your finger-tips. Wikipedia is my friend. Speaking of friends, I am part of an international blogging community where I get to exchange ideas with talented writers and learn to improve my own.

I know the closest relationship I have is with my smartphone. But at least he does not hang out in other people’s pockets.

I have become more in touch with the world because of social media. As an introvert, social media has given me opportunities to voice my opinions appropriately, on platforms where people with differing values and perceptions can engage with me.

True, the environment on the internet creates room for error, some of which can regrettably alter careers. But, in the same breath, the internet can be used constructively to build and promote your most valuable brand- your reputation. I learnt this when I was recruited for a writing job on Twitter. Forget LinkedIn, Pinterest and Dora the explorer (I do not know why I said that, she sounds like she could be an app) each day the number of avenues for you to express yourself on the web are growing in creative ways.

I know the closest relationship I have is with my smartphone. But at least he does not hang out in other people’s pockets. And when he gets boring I can always replace him with a better model.

I know all my Instagram posts are useless things I find in the newsroom, but there are people out there who think my pictures of mouldy coffee cups are epic. And I happen to think James Franco selfies look good all the time.

I know that I tweet a lot about music, but there are millions of us across the world who think Ed Sheeran is the coolest ginger.

I know that what you do not pay the internet in money, you pay for in time. But if you are responsible, the internet could be the best way for you to optimise your time.

So when you see me walk into a room, know that my first question will be: “Is there Wifi in here?”

This article was featured in the Wits Vuvuzela