Below is a selection of mini-essays on the relationship between social media and mental health, compiled by Charlotte Hampshaw and written by Hannah Flowers, Holly Smith, Ella Valentine and Molly Milton.
Beautiful Digital Bedroom Wall
By Hannah Flowers
On my bedroom wall, there is a print of a house I visited in Morocco, painted with golds and blues. It sits directly opposite my bed so as I drift off to sleep I think about how good the sunlight will feel when I can go back there.
If you’re a similar age to me and in your early 20s, I’ll assume you had your first Facebook account around the ages of 12 to 14, joining Instagram and Twitter soon after. At this time, the mark of a budding social media profile was to have as many followers as possible. This led to a generation of young people consuming an intense amount of un-curated media and information, following harmful or uninteresting accounts simply because social pressure dictated they should. Nobody ever wanted to be the only one that hadn’t seen the post all their friends were talking about.
Nowadays, this same generation of people seemed to have reclaimed social media, creating change making campaigns to ensure these apps protect their users from the same harmful content. Features like mute, block and report have become increasingly commonplace as algorithms (while they now know everything about you (the robots are taking over)) curate your content so you consume media you appear to enjoy. While social platforms are doing nowhere near enough to protect their users, if utilised correctly they can become the digital equivalent of the posters you place on your bedroom wall. A place where you can curate the media you consume to enhance your interests, learn new things and find out about people who would have never been within your reach 20 years ago.
From amazing activists giving out their time and resources to educate people for free, to accounts dedicated to fashion or sport, we now have access to an incredible amount of information that allows us to become better people, if we so choose. There is literally an account for everything.
While the awful side of social media often rears its head, the more users take these apps into their own control, the better they become; a beautiful curation of wonderful artistic people that create and share for the betterment of others so you can have a beautiful digital bedroom wall.
What is Social Media Activism? Is it the new future of activism?
By Holly Smith
CW: police brutality, racism
Social Media Activism is defined as a protest or social movement that heavily relies on social media platforms in order to mobilise supporters and spread its message to as wide an audience as possible. Activism in this form, really gained traction after the 2010 Arab Spring Demonstrations and ever since then it has been utilised by so many social movements all over the world. I think to really understand just how important social media is, we should look at the increased connectivity within activism and focus on the events that followed the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of uniformed police officers in May 2020. The distressing footage of his death was shared rapidly across social media platforms such as Facebook, twitter and instagram, prompting the quickly trending hashtag Black Lives Matter. The momentum was not lost for this movement which still maintained a large social media presence and was still on the trending hashtags of twitter six months after his death. Since the death of George Floyd, a total of 4,444 cities and towns worldwide have participated in protests against police brutality. That is an incredible mobilisation of people for one cause on a scale that would be completely impossible if it were not for the addition of social media. I personally got to experience and participate in some of Bristol’s powerful and vibrant Black Lives Matter Protests, most importantly the peaceful protest that saw the toppling of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol’s city centre. This was an incredibly moving thing to witness and I wouldn’t even have known it was happening or realised all the reasons Colston was such a problematic historical figure to have memorialised was it not for the Facebook pages and instagram accounts that promoted the protest. Since this initial protest in June, there have been meetings, marches, musical events from powerful speakers around the city, spreading the important message of equality around Bristol. All of which have been organised and popularised using social media. It can be said that the Black Lives Matter Movement which first appeared in social media in 2013 has generated such intense levels of international support because of the connectivity of social media.
The addition of social media to the Black Lives Matter Protests meant that worldwide everyone was able to see, hear and feel the power of the protests. That is incredibly important. I feel within modern society ignorance is often bliss, if we don’t see what is happening, it doesn’t have to affect us, but social media by sharing footage of these powerful and important protests, it shed a spotlight on important voices and perspectives. But without social media, a lot of us wouldn’t have a clue, because we are in a privileged position where problems don’t affect us. But, change cannot happen without the full support of all society, and together using social media and using protests we will hopefully be able to shift public opinion, then policy-makers and that’s when real, effective and sustainable change will be able to occur. So although social media often gets a bad reputation, it can be very effectively used to promote important social movements, in an attempt to push society to a more equal future. The Oxford Handbook of US Movement Activism sums it up quite nicely by stating that:
“Social movement organisations have fought on the battlegrounds of media to publicise their grievances and change public opinion” and what better way to spread your message and change public opinion than use a platform which is used by billions of people worldwide. How much bigger of an audience can you possibly get?
So? Having looked at the mobilising side of social media activism and the incredible connectivity it is able to create across boundaries and borders and languages, I think it is important we look at the flip side of that coin and discuss some of the dangers of social media activism and getting all your news from social media or twitter. I hate to give this man any air-time at all but he is the perfect example of how social media can go round. That is Donald Trump. Ever since the 2016 election the use of social media for political reasons has never been more prevalent, with the accusations of fake news, and the often unbelievable tweets the ex-President puts out there. He really has exposed some of the dangers of twitter, he has created the environment where what he says, is being taken as fact and that can be incredibly dangerous when you’re not having effective fact-checking or procedures in place, to make sure people are not spreading complete nonsense. Essentially. I think if we can take anything from the four years of his presidency, it is that social media can be dangerous, it can be a place where people are able to harbour hate and resentment and antagonism in the complete opposite way that the Black Lives Matter Movement was able to rally support and love and community-values to achieve one goal. We all have to take a minute and realise just like in reality, some people will not use the resources for good. Just like all aspects in life, people aren’y going to use things for the right reasons, that doesn’t undermine the good that it can do. Social Media provides a platform for peoples voices that wouldn’t typically heard, it provides a platform for injustice that might be overlooked, by much of society and that is incredibly important, to keep people aware and connected, as a community and to rally people together to achieve the justice and equality that we deserve. Equality would not be possible without activism. Activism is there to direct and intervene in social political reform and it is a way for the general public to have their voices heard for the greater good. That is so important. And what better way to achieve these things than to use social media, a platform with over 3 and a half billion users, that is an audience that is unachievable in any other context. Needs to be unitised for good. Get people to engage with one another and come together for a common cause. Something quite beautiful.
In the right hands, it could be an incredible thing, it takes people who care to spread that message, engage their friends, to provide a platform for people's voices who don’t necessarily have enough of an audience, together we can strive to create a better future.
Activism never ends. Campaigning will never end. By using the technology we have, we can create further tolerance and acceptance.
Social Media and Mental Health
By Ella Valentine
Posts that tell you to check in on your friends in an attempt to raise awareness about suicide are well-intentioned and I’ve definitely shared many of them myself, but they honestly don’t even touch the surface. I’m not saying it’s not important to check on your mates and to be aware of what people close to you are going through. But we need to talk about the real issues behind youth suicide at the moment.
The causes are without a doubt different for everyone and honestly, who are we to say what they are. But we can all agree that your mate checking on you isn’t going to cause you to have some huge revelation and cure your various mental health issues. This issue stems from a lack of support from educational institutions. It stems from far too much pressure put on our generation, especially considering what’s been left behind for us to deal with by those that preceded us. We are the first generation to experience the negative effects of the internet and social media. Social media has become a warped microcosm for reality and it needs to stop. We should all be having days off from the apps that we are addicted to. For our own sanity. We are living in a massively consumerist, capitalist culture that breeds discontent with what we already have and makes us believe that we want more. We constantly want what someone else has, whether it be material or not! If we continue to think like this we will never accept ourselves.
I am no expert on this, but recent circumstances have led me to become even more angered by what 2020/21 has exposed about our society. Please do check on your mates - but don’t let that be the only narrative. These notions to me put way too much emphasis on the friends of the person in question. We’ve all heard this before but mental health illnesses are not dissimilar from physical illnesses and it’s time we viewed them with the same significance. The amount of people hurting themselves and taking their lives is proof that not enough is being done. Would you check on your mate with a broken leg and expect it to be healed the next day?
Digital Detox (PART I)
By Molly Milton
Screens are magnets and our eyes are metal. We indulge in digital life for work, pleasure, entertainment, education, even for pretending we are outside. We live in a digital age. This digital age is melting our brain and emptying our soul of the true meanings of life. Life is about nature, physical contact, conversations, interaction, wildlife, movement. Until this century, it was always this way, but now, we have all the resources we need on the internet. Or do we? Can the internet truly give us all the answers we are looking for. Surely not. What negative effects must it encroach on our bodies? Our beautifully intricate eyes must suffer from the strain of screen consumption, our wonderfully complex minds must be exploding with useless information. The nature of digitalisation benefits our convenience in so many ways but breaks our natural capacity to be human and act as humans evolved to be. We are animals of nature, products of energy transferring from life form to life form but we seem to be at a stage now where all aspects of our natural life can be replaced by screen-time. Seeking constant entertainment from social media makes us toxic and hateful as we compare every aspect of our lives to the cropped, edited and filtered perfection we all display through social media profiles. Ambiguity and wonder is stripped from our personalities as everything we do is presented to the world through posts and hashtags, allowing us to design this avatar of ourselves that we want people to believe is us, but if and when we meet in person and our humanity shows, we are repulsed by the organic functions of the human body and mind. The majority of our lives are spent perfecting our online image, but what for? So we don’t have to have real human interaction? So we can sit through life, scrolling and filtering our faces until all physicality and mindfulness is gone?
Soul Cleanse (PART II)
By Molly Milton
Change can be made at any time. Anything can become a part of daily routine as long as the time and effort is put in. Engaging in life, engaging with people, engaging in physical acts of self-love and kindness can all become part of our nature. That instinct to pick up the laptop or phone, can be replaced with the instinct to pick up a book, turning integral acts of wellbeing into necessities to nurture the soul. We under-appreciate the simple act of being. Mindfulness comes with gratitude, allowing us to feel the pleasure and simplicity of kindness to ourselves and others. When we sit and drink tea, we can fully engage in the experience without relying on the entertainment of our screens, we can feel the warmth through our hands grasping the mug, fuelling the soul with positive, grounded energy. We can sit and embrace the sensation of relaxation engulfing our muscles as we sink into our seated position and focus on the simple pleasure these activities give us, increasing our gratitude for everything that is involved in our lives. Once we start spending our precious time appreciating art and nature and the things that mould human life, we stop spending our time worrying about what others are doing and how their life compares to ours. When we disengage from the obsession of other people’s sugar coated instagram lives and engage with what truly makes us happy, we will find mindfulness is part of our natural instinct. We can sit and draw for hours and not view it as a waste of time, we can get lost in a book or print or gallery and not assume we could be elsewhere doing better. There is no better act than immersing ourselves in culture and all acts of mindful creativity are an expression of what we absorb from our culture. Our souls can be cleansed from our obsession with other lives and we can live on our own independently, surrounding ourselves only with the people who matter to us and love us, as we love them back.
Images: Ashleigh Lyme
Editor: Charlotte Hampshaw