Common wisdom says social media is bad for our mental health. Online gurus are constantly telling people to get off their phones and go outside, as if that’s a panacea for all of life’s problems. And I understand. I really do. Stepping outside, spending time with the horses, or with the chickens, does wonders for my mental health. However, I don’t think that is one-size-fits-all advice, and social media can be a powerful force for community, especially for marginalized groups.
The issue came to light with the recent changes at Twitter. The chronic illness community is actively mourning the possibility that the platform which brought so much of us together may be going away, or at least changing in a fundamental way to disrupt that community. We’re not alone. Many organizing groups, communities of color, and those who report on major news and disasters in real time, are also lamenting the possible loss of Twitter. Could you imagine the Ferguson Protests without Twitter? Or how about January 6th. I received my news of the Notre Dame Cathedral fire through Twitter, and for many people it’s their sole or almost sole news source.
I suppose the argument could be made that seeing these events, feeling helpless because you are unable to assist, isn’t good for our mental health. However, the activism, the community that grew up around these events, the way to provide material aid and support, a lot of that started on social media.
The goal with everything is moderation, of course. Consuming social media 24/7, just like consuming ice cream 24/7 is probably not advised. Variety is the spice of life and allows our brains to rest. Being on alert, especially watching traumatizing events, can be damaging if the brain doesn’t get to rest. Just ask anyone with PTSD/cPTSD or anxiety.
To me, living in the middle of the Ozarks, my community IS online. There are no local support groups; the gyms here are either chains or Cross-Fit. And with my anxiety and autism, I do better in text-based chats. Even with the character limit, Twitter provides this for me and for so many people.
There’s a lot of bad behavior on Twitter, as there is on Facebook and any other social media platform. Being able to curate your feed, block and mute as necessary, is essential to maintaining your mental health. But it’s a huge disservice to many communities to say that Twitter, or social media in general, is wholly bad for your health.
Social media can create community. It can foster a sense of belonging. And yes, it can be good for your mental health.