Did you know PLATO is a little-known program from the 1970s that offered the world’s first messaging forum similar to a very basic Facebook Messenger?
That would make social media middle-aged at around 50 years old. Since its inception over five decades ago, social media has grown into a beast that has great benefits but a dark side, too.
The top four platforms with the highest monthly active users are Facebook (2.9 billion), YouTube (2.3 billion), WhatsApp (2 billion) and Instagram (1.4 billion).
From these statistics, it is clear to see how ingrained social media has become in the daily lives of billions across the world.
Social media is a great way to stay connected with others, especially in recent times where the coronavirus pandemic restricted physical human contact.
Social media has ushered into a more connected world. According to Facebookwhat used to be six degrees of separation between us, is now just over three degrees.
Social media has played a significant role in helping activists and protesters organize demonstrations from a grassroots level. In the instance of The Arab Spring over a decade ago, Twitter was used to quickly disseminate information to raise global awareness of events that otherwise might have gone unreported.
Social media is more than an efficient way to learn about breaking news in real time. It has leveled the playing field by giving everyone a voice. Now Maureen from next door has the same opportunity as a CEO of posing a question to an MP.
This democratization of speech and accessibility has become a double-edged sword. It is great that anyone with an Internet connection and smartphone can now voice their opinions freely. It starts to get troublesome when opinions have shared a negative impact on the well-being and lives of others.
Reality television stars and those in the public eye are often exposed to negative and hurtful comments from some members of the public.
Caroline Flack was a popular and talented TV and radio presenter. The 40-year-old who was beset by personal and professional problems, passed away on 15 February 2020.
As reported by South Wales ArgusCaroline Flack’s mother Christine said social media companies “fail to protect anybody.”
She added: “When I was young, if you were bullied at school you could get away from it. You can’t get away from it now because it follows you home, it follows you on your phone.”
In an Instagram post shared less than two months before passing, Caroline wrote: “This kind of scrutiny and speculation is a lot to take on for one person to take on their own… I’m a human being at the end of the days.”
Molly-Mae Hague faced massive social media backlash twice this year. Firstly after her comments on Steven Bartlett’s podcast were branded out of touch and, more recently, when she was criticized for ‘fascination’ with discount prices at a B&M store.
Social media can negatively impact mental health. As reported by TodayUS singer Demi Lovato said: “Social media in itself is a giant trigger.”
Other public figures who have faced negativity on social media include MP Diane Abbott when she was photographed sipping a mojito on London’s tube and TOWIE star Joey Turner, whose Instagram posts are filled with negative comments from the public about his weight.
It’s not just celebrities who are on the receiving end of abuse. Malvika Sheth, founder and digital content creator @Stylebymalvika, said she was not prepared on how to handle trolling or negative comments.
She said: “Everyone experiences some form of negative commentary online, the difference is that it hit me at a time where I was dealing with a low in my personal life, and it brought back memories of having been bullied/ridiculed when I was younger .
“It was hard for me to see small comments like ‘clean your dandruff’ or ‘are you pregnant’ or ‘ew, too skinny’ when I had actually worked on my appearance after being bullied as a child.
“I lost a large amount of weight in a very short amount of time because I was tired of not ‘fitting in’.
“I’m so much more comfortable with negative comments today and am able to get them in one ear and out the other, because I know from personal experience that for one to think negatively, they themselves have to be in a negative space.
“I have this perspective today because I’m in therapy, I’ve taken time for myself, and am overall in a much better space, and that’s something I wish for both creators online and the consumers that write negative things on people’s posts. ”
Samantha Smith, who works in PR, said: “I was trolled on Twitter quite badly for a few days. It all spiraled out of control from me writing one tweet asking if the character Deirdre Barlow could be killed off. Those few words turned into days of bright and mixed emotions.
“Unfortunately, the actress who played Deirdre Barlow sadly died six months later and a number of fake profiles started harassing me. They were saying things like ‘Oh look, Samantha has killed Deirdre, she’s a murderer’, and ‘Let’s call the police and get her locked up and thrown away’.
“These comments I laughed off but when they stole my profile photo and copied my bio I was frightened. They were sharing my picture in tweets and saying I deserve to rot in hell for being a Deirdre killer. I had no idea what to do but they threatened me a number of times.
“A few of my friends tried to get involved by telling them to leave me alone and reporting the profiles but it didn’t stop them at first.
“Eventually after a few days their accounts disappeared and I felt less threatened – that experience made me more conscious of what I tweet about.”
Social media abuse covers not only trolling but hacking too. Soma Ghosh, careers adviser and podcast host of @CareerHappyPod, had her Facebook and Instagram accounts hacked which affected her small business. When hackers posted fake ISIS photos, their social media profiles were suspended due to a violation of community guidelines.
Soma said: “I had to rebuild my business and I still haven’t gone back on Facebook or Instagram The dark side I would say, is that even if you are a small business or anyone else, if someone is impersonating you or hacks into your account, clones it or does anything else, you have no control over this.
“Plus in the process if you are self-employed you may have to start again like I did or get a job.”
You don’t have to suffer in silence if you’re struggling with your mental health. Here are some groups you can contact when you need help:
Samaritans: Phone 116 123, 24 hours a day, or email [email protected], in confidence
Childline: Phone 0800 1111. Calls are free and won’t show up on your bill
PAPYRUS: A voluntary organization supporting suicidal teens and young adults. Telephone 0800 068 4141
Depression Alliance: A charity for people with depression. No helpline but offers useful resources and links to other information on its site
Students Against Depression: A website for students who are depressed, have low mood, or are suicidal. Click here to visit
Bullying UK: A website for both children and adults affected by bullying. Click here
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM): For young men who are feeling unhappy. Has a website here and a help line: 0800 58 58 58
There is no doubt that social media is a phenomenally powerful platform. It can also be used to share news to educate and inform.
FKA Twigs used Instagram to share her horrifying story in December 2020. She wrote: “I hope that by sharing my experience I can truly help others feel like they are not alone and shed some light on how those who are worried somebody they care about may be in an abusive relationship can help because i understand it can be confusing and hard to know what to do.”
Has the social media landscape changed since Caroline Flack’s passing?
The Online Safety Bill, which focuses on the regulation of online platforms and is currently in draft stage, is being beefed up and continues to be the subject of debate.
If you are experiencing emotional distress or are suicidal, you can call Samaritans for help on 116 123.
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