#Instafame: Why teens are giving up online privacy for popularity

Watch above: Mike Drolet looks at how the Internet offers everyone a shot at instant fame.

TORONTO – Social media has spawned a new generation of celebrities – bloggers, tweeters and Instagrammers whose online personas have catapulted them into the online spotlight.

And your child could be one of them.

An increasing number of young social media users are using apps like Instagram and Twitter and video-sharing services like Vine and YouTube to amass thousands of followers, all in the hope of becoming “Instafamous,” according to research from Centennial College in Toronto.

The research – dubbed #Instafame and the Epidemiology of a Selfie-Curated Culture – is part of a year-long study into the growing phenomenon of teens seeking ‘Kardashian’ fame status online.

According to the research, some of these teens are as savvy as advertisers when it comes to marketing themselves through strategic hashtags and hundreds of selfies.

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“Many youth have learned the more you reveal, the more controversial your posts; the more you hashtag, the more effective your marketing,” said Debbie Gordon, co-author of the research.

Researchers spoke with middle- and high-school aged students who said despite an increase in digital literacy education, many of their friends are trading in their privacy for more followers.

READ MORE: Google accounts for kids under 13 raise concerns with privacy experts

It’s no wonder the so-called “selfie generation” sees social media as their ticket to fame. Many stars have made careers out of their social media presence, including Canadian musician Shawn Mendes who was discovered after garnering a huge following on video-sharing app Vine.

Reality star Kim Kardashian has become even more famous thanks to her social media presence. With over 21 million followers, she is one of the most followed people on Instagram.

The majority of her pictures are selfies.

At time of publishing, a search for the hashtag #selfie on Instagram turned up 192,551,600 posts – and that doesn’t include the 50-some-odd variations like #selfiesunday with over 11 million posts, or #selfienation with over three million posts.

WATCH: Young people looking for “likes” and followers through social media have now become something referred to as the “instafame” culture. Mark McAllister reports.

What parents might find troubling is the majority of those selfies are public and accessible to everyone.

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“For the last year, our research team has been lurking and creeping young people’s online digital lives. It kind of creeps me out to admit that,” reads a section of the #instafame website.

“But the truth is we haven’t had to snoop or employ any underhanded strategies or tactics to do this. All we did was type the word ‘selfie’ into Google search and watched as millions of links and images answered our query.”

What teens may not think about is that these images could put them at risk for cyberbullying and identity theft. Researchers warn that some may even have their images used in marketing without their consent due to loose rules for corporation’s taking images from social media sites.

But this pattern may be hard to break thanks to the make-up of the teenage brain.

“I see a clash between age-old youth issues and modern day influence,” Vancouver-based psychiatrist and parenting author Dr. Shimi Kang told Global News.

“One of the issues this age group faces is risk-taking – the teenage brain is more rewarded to take risks. The other component is this has always been a time for self-expression. Teens want to shape their identity.”

READ MORE: Should there be a legal age to use social media?

Kang said she isn’t surprised to hear that despite schools teaching the importance of online privacy, kids are still taking risks online. She said the same paradigm applies to talking to teens about something like smoking – instead of talking about the long-term health effects, teachers should be relating the consequences to something that will affect teens in the now – like the yellowing of their teeth, for example.

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“We need to focus more on the immediate effect, because they are getting rewarded by the number of likes,” she said.

“We should be saying ‘what if your teacher or coach saw this,’ instead of how [a racy photo] might affect you in 10 years at a job interview.”

Kang also cautioned that young people can become especially vulnerable when it comes to criticism and bullying – something that often occurs on social media.

Teens that base their self worth on how many followers or likes they have are more at risk of developing mental health or addiction issues, especially those suffering from low self-esteem, said the expert.

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