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Social Media: A Darkened Mirror of Societal Issues?

posted Feb 27, 2014, 3:36 AM by Unknown user   [ updated Feb 27, 2014, 8:18 AM by Unknown user ]

Alisa Warren

With its original intention to create “social networks,” or branches of community through the online platform, early social media is recalled among our generation as what once was AOL “Instant Messenger” and Myspace. These were eventually replaced by such sites as Facebook and Twitter, but each site generally has similar purposes: to connect people and create community through the Internet.

Image courtesy of: freebiesbug.com (fair use)

Scrolling through any Twitter or Facebook feed, though, it’s highly likely that the majority of status updates and tweets are those of glaring negativity and complaints. Looking at this, it might make one wonder if social media is truly a tool for connection, but rather a means of broadcasting an outspoken gray cloud of self-pity.  

Mr. Niekamp, Biology teacher at Van Buren, has been a user of Facebook since its early introduction in his collegiate years when the site was intended to be used on college campuses only. Now, he uses social media to keep in touch with family and friends, but he doesn’t see a point in those who decide to vent through these sites.

“If you want to vent, go find someone to talk to and vent about it,” advises Niekamp. “Don’t put something on social media where a lot of people can see, and people might get the wrong impression of you.”

Despite what he sees while scrolling through these sites, though, he believes that their presence is still mostly positive. “I would say it’s making society more interconnected,” says Niekamp.

Senior Collin Causey, who says he uses Twitter “to connect with people that work in the industry that I’m interested in,” has also noticed the abundance of outspoken Tweets.

“I think people are a lot more courageous on Twitter than they would be vocally in public, because they are behind their computers and they are more audacious while saying things,” says Causey.

According to Causey, this form of social media-use is not only a reflection of current societal attitudes, but also a depiction of the primitive human attraction to negativity and suffering.

         “Like anything, the ‘bad’ gets the most publicity,” says Causey. “If you watch the news, you would think it’s been the end of the world for 15 years, but that’s only because the bad gets publicized.”

This type of dark social demeanor is found elsewhere besides Facebook and Twitter, though. While the content posted on these sites (particularly Facebook) is somewhat moderated, a much less controlled, yet prevalent form of social media negativity is found on Tumblr, the micro-blogging site.

Image courtesy of: Tumblr.com (fair use)

On Tumblr, users can effortlessly share links, photos, videos, music, and text, and also available is an option to instantly post content from other blogs at the click of a mouse.

Junior Emily Anderberry says she uses Tumblr as, “an outlet after a long day.” She uses it to unwind and look at the creative bloggers that post inspirational and artistic things that she may not come across during her everyday life.

Senior Jenna Gallello also uses it for the purpose of entertainment. “It’s really just my procrastination go-to,” says Gallello, laughing. “If I don’t really want to start anything, I see what Tumblr has, because there’s always something new.”

Like the other social media sites mentioned, Tumblr’s original intentions were for the positive: to make the Internet hobby of blogging as simple and easy as possible. But the darker reality of this site paints a different picture.

Some blogs celebrate the toxic activities of self-harm through cutting and eating disorders, by featuring images of emaciated women and slender legs, as well as photographs of wrists destroyed by self-inflicted wounds. They also provide a painfully obvious hint to the troubles that young people are going through.

Senior Shelby George, avid Tumblr blogger, is saddened when she sees such posts on the site and shares Niekamp’s sentiment of wishing that social media users would seek help rather than posting. “I don’t think [the blogs] should be online,” says George. “I think that if they’re feeling that way, they should talk to someone.”

Something striking about the site is not only the blogs dedicated to the the subjects that are triggers to those struggling with disorders, but also the blogs that are dedicated to showcasing the disorders themselves, proposing the mental health issues that beg for attention as “lifestyles.” Some even call this, “21st century poetry for the smartphone generation.” Examples of this “poetry” are images of girls with cut wrists, captioned with somber song lyrics, and these are staple items of many blogs that feature the effects of loss of self-worth.

Image courtesy of: Tumblr.com (fair use)

“Some people think it’s a trend, and it’s okay to express it,” says Gallello. “I’m not a fan of that kind of stuff. And I even have a couple of followers that are really depressing.”

Gallello continues to say that when she comes across these depressing posts, she finds it particularly sad when they’re clearly about the poster themselves. “I get really sad because a lot of the times, they’re personal posts, like today was a relapse day. It’s really sad to think about that someone relapsed.”

Although Anderberry acknowledges the suffering behind the depression-blogs, she does see some positive behind them. “I know there’s a lot of people who can relate to them,” she says, “and it helps them through things, so I think it’s good for that.”

Anderberry also added that this doesn’t apply when the bloggers are, “staying in their depression and they’re not trying to get better at all.” Perhaps this can be a harmless outlet, as long as the negativity is not being perpetuated.

This type of blogging doesn’t always stop at the Internet, though.

Talluah Wilson, a 15-year-old girl who was an avid Tumblr blogger from the United Kingdom, created a fantasy, cocaine-addicted character, in order to escape reality through Tumblr and often posted photos on her blog of self-inflicted cuts. On Oct. 14, 2012 the depressed 15-year-old took her own life by jumping in front of a train.

Her mother, Sarah, said in an interview with The Guardian that her daughter, "entered a world where the lines between fantasy, and reality blurred.” She and several others are now demanding sites like Tumblr to stop hosting blogs that promote suicide and perpetuate depression in adolescents like her daughter.

In response to incidents like this, Tumblr has become more adamant with dealing with the mental disorders users face, with a pop-up window that appears when key-terms such as “skinny,” “depression,” and “cutting” are searched.

The pop-up reads: “If you or someone you know is dealing with an eating disorder, self harm issues, or suicidal thoughts, please visit our Counseling & Prevention resources page for a list of services that may be able to help.” At the end of that text, there are two options: “dismiss,” to continue browsing through the results of the flagged search term, and “tell me more,” which directs the user to a list of counseling services for a number of different mental health related issues.

Besides the issues on these sites individually, the Internet is merely a platform to broadcast issues from which people struggle with. The bigger questions are, how does society work on erasing this dark attitude, and why is it so overpowering?

Echoing her classmates, Gallello believes it’s so difficult simply because it’s what sells. “People focus on the negative,” says Gallello. “It spreads faster. It gets peoples’ attention. It makes money...look at the tabloids.”