Put simply, social media can be defined as online platforms that allow for users to create, post, share and comment on content whilst (often) developing social networks and communities. Boyd and Ellison (2008, 211) define social networking sites as “web-based services that allow individuals to construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system.”
Popular forms of social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Blogs and Twitter have recently been utilized by users and Institutions to break down the stigmas attached to mental illness by creating supportive communities and networks. These networks abolish previous beliefs and the sense of loneliness that can be experienced by those living in less accessible areas or simply by individuals that do not feel comfortable enough to discuss their challenges in a face-to-face environment. But first, to understand social media and the capabilities of the online world to break down such stigmas the concept of Web 2.0 should be briefly explored.
The term “Web 2.0” was coined in 2004 at the O’Reilly Media Web 2.0 Conference hosted by Tim O’Reilly (O’Reilly, 2005) and Dale Dougherty. Web 2.0 refers to utilizing the online sphere as a collaborative space that allows for the everyday individual to become a content creator and share their ideas and creations instantly to a global audience. This relates closely to Media Theorist Henry Jenkins’ concept of a “participatory culture” in which our digital presence is driven by participation and collaboration.
Jenkins’ believes that this current “participatory culture” is built upon a foundation of five important factors, which are stated below (Jenkins, 2009)
“1. Relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement.
2. Strong support for creating and sharing creations with others.
3. Informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices.
4. Members who believe that their contributions matter.
5. Members who feel some degree of social connection with one another.”
Hinton and Hjorth furthered this idea stating that the changes that come with Web 2.0 allow for a sense of freedom and user generated content, however make note of the issues that can come with such freedoms. Companies are now collecting user-generated content, analyzing the data and using this accumulated knowledge to gain power over their audience. Companies can now determine what information users are searching for, what is important to their users and even the personal information of their users or chosen demographic. It is this knowledge that can in turn shift users from wanting to post about their ailments to remaining quiet, perpetuating the stereotype that mental illness is something not to be spoken about. However, many social networks, campaigns and social media platforms such as blogs and YouTube channels are attempting to dismantle this belief in the hopes of changing the way in which society views mental health as a whole.
In my personal project You and Everyone You Know I wanted to explore how social media and Web 2.0 can allow for communities to be built, stigmas to be broken down and individuals to access information and networks that assist with living with a mental illness. Web 2.0 has allowed for the sharing of information, the building of supportive communities and also the accessibility to crisis chat services that can be accessed when an individual feels ‘at risk.’ Many mental health institutes have taken note of the abilities of such technologies and have brought in specialists to develop their online presence. An example would be The Black Dog Institute, which grew from 5,000 to 25,000 followers through utilizing the skills of a social media manager. Just by looking at the monumental follower growth of such institutes (Beyond Blue has a following of 180,000 people) highlights the importance and relevance of using these platforms for those suffering with a mental illness. Sufferers are able to access information about particular illnesses, read info sheets on living with a partner or parent with mental illness and have access to suicide hotline numbers and online crisis chat facilities.
The importance of breaking down the stigmas attached to mental illness can be encapsulated through the interviews noted in the Beyond Blue Stigma and Discrimination Statement (2015). One interviewee stated “I think the reality is…the stigma of mental illness is, in some ways, worse than the illness itself. Unless the stigma can be removed to such a degree that it does not become a barrier to acknowledgement, treatment and hope for the future, the reduction of some mental illnesses will be nothing but a pipe dream.” This statement clearly states the importance of breaking down stigmas attached to certain illnesses. By utilizing social media and creating user-generated content in a positive manner the stigmas attached to mental illness and the lack of understanding of such illnesses will greatly decline, which will in turn make recovery a lot more achievable.
Social media and Web 2.0 allows for those suffering with mental illnesses to not only access information and support from Institutions but also generate their own content, which they can share and collaborate on online. This can come in the form of a blog, Facebook group, Instagram Page or YouTube Channel etc. Jonathan Harris, a computer scientist and artist from New York developed a project called We Feel Fine that celebrates the universality of human emotion and the way in which humans express their emotions online. In Harris’ Ted Talk (Harris, 2007) “The Web’s Secret Stories” he explains the reasoning behind his project. We Feel Fine grabs sentences from blogs all over the globe that state “I feel” or “I am feeling” to create a database of human feelings that make comment on the idea that we are all in the same, regardless of the “gaps” we have, whether it be gender, sexuality, religion or location. We Feel Fine increases by 15,000 to 20,000 new feelings a day.
Harris organizes these findings into a particle system, in which each particle is a different feeling. The colour, size and shape of the particles speak of how positive or negative the feelings are and can be clicked upon to take the reader to the blog in which the feeling was posted on. There are several different ways the audience can view the particles or data, whether it be through viewing them individually, through which feelings are the most commonly talked about or the rate in which feelings in a particular location or time period are felt. The project aims to comment on the idea that wherever you are in the world, human beings feel the same feelings and they are never alone.
Upon reviewing this project I can make a clear connection between the concept of We Feel Fine and my own project You And Everyone You Know. Both projects are attempting to make their readers feel like the feelings or thoughts they are having are not in isolation. Both projects attempt to dismantle current stigmas that are attached to both mental illness and the idea of speaking about one’s emotions in a negative way. These projects and communities would not have been possible without social media and Web 2.0 and utilize the power of user-generated content. In the future social media platforms, mental health projects and user-generated content will continue to grow, as will the communities understanding of mental illness and the resources available.
Written by Amelia Goldie
Hinton, S. & Hjorth, L. (2013). Understanding social media. London: SAGE.
Boyd, Danah, and Nicole B. Ellison. (2008). Social Networking Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 13 (1): 210-230
Beyond Blue, (2015). Beyond Blue Stigma and Discrimination Associated With Depression and Anxiety Position Statement, retrieved 18th April 2016, can be accessed at https://www.beyondblue.org.au/docs/default-source/policy-submissions/stigma-and-discrimination-associated-with-depression-and-anxiety.pdf?sfvrsn=0
O’Reilly, T. (2005). What Is Web 2.0, Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software, retrieved 11th September 2015, can be accessed at http://www.oreilly.com/pub/a/web2/archive/what-is-web-20.html
Jenkins, H. (2009) Confronting The Challenges of Participatory Culture. The MIT Press. London, Cambridge.
Harris, Jonathon, (March, 2007). Jonathon Harris: The Webs Secret Stories. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_harris_tells_the_web_s_secret_stories#t-886170