These days most of us use social networking sites. Mind even has its own social network, Elefriends. The question is “Are social networking sites good for your mental health?” and, “How are these sites moderated?”
In the good old days we used to write, telephone or even talk to each other. Now we post a status, tweet a message and open ourselves up to complete strangers. We have “friends” or “followers”. Of your friends or followers how many do you really know? I'm not against social networking sites, but have learnt lessons the hard way. A comment about a work colleague led to problems after another colleague saw it. In another instance I thought I was having a private chat with a friend and they copied and pasted my remarks on their wall.
Problems can also occur when you make a post/tweet and don't get the reaction you expect. For example, “I'm feeling a bit down today, I'd rather stay in bed”. How do you feel emotionally if someone “likes” the post? Are they liking that you feel down or are they just acknowledging the post? Does the response then make you feel even more down? There are no facial expressions or tone of voice to give away how someone is actually responding. Is reading about someone else feeling low or self harming going to give you ideas or do you feel you could help that person with words of encouragement?
I have done a bit of research into how these sites are moderated. Elefriends has a team from Mind who keep an eye on posts. There’s a report function so that elefriends can alert the moderators to anything that worries them. They are there to step in should things become difficult. They have the facility to contact people directly. This is fantastic as Elefriends is designed for people with mental health difficulties who may be more vulnerable. I really enjoy catching up with my friends, finding out what they have been up to, etc.
Maybe we yearn for these friendships because, due to our own issues, we cannot forge them in the real world. I certainly have difficulties meeting people, making friends and maintaining those friendships/relationships. On a social networking site you are an anonymous body who can drop in and out of a conversation/friendship as it suits you. If you fall out with someone you can just delete them. Good friendships can be made on a social networking site. I now meet up regularly with friends I have made online. We have a good old natter and put the world to rights. It's great and something that would not have happened before the internet was around. I found my friends through a mutual love of dogs, others I know from their old school or a love of dance.
Overall, I think these sites are a positive thing but you have to remember to keep it in perspective. Don't put yourself in the position to be taken advantage of and think carefully about what information you are giving away. More importantly, though, is have fun. Big hugs.
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