Is it really Facebook’s fault?
With all the publicity around Facebook and mental health at the moment, I find myself thinking about everything that’s happened over the last couple of years, the part that social media has played in it all and whether or not it’s really Facebook’s fault.
We’ve all seen the headlines lately about Facebook putting profits over people after a very compelling interview with whistle-blower Frances Haugen.
But I’ve been on my own personal mental health journey with Facebook recently and I thought it was time to share my thoughts.
We know that Mark Zuckerberg has made changes to Facebook and Instagram over the last two years to supposedly improve the impact it has on the mental health of its users but in reality, I was always sceptical about their motives.
Social media has become an enormous part of our lives and no matter what your personal thoughts are, the reality is, most of us will still use it. Even more worryingly is that most of us would struggle to live without it.
It’s like an addiction but where you can find support groups for alcoholism and gambling, you’ll be hard pushed to find one for Facebook.
But can it really be blamed for impacting our mental health?
I’m not sure if sharing my thoughts on this is brave or stupid since social media is quite literally my entire life. It’s my business, my livelihood and without it, I would be in trouble, but I work from a business perspective, not personal and there is a huge difference between the two.
Today, I want to talk about the personal side of social media.
The last few months have been a rough ride for me and my mental health. I’ve been up and down like a yoyo and at one point, not so long ago, the thought of getting out of bed in the morning was a challenge too far.
When I wake up in the morning, I immediately pick up my phone and despite my love for LinkedIn, that is not the first place I go. I head to Facebook.
This is something I have had to take a long hard look at and yes, I’ve had to change this habit (addiction).
As a social media manager, I felt the need to be in every group out there. Including local groups. I also follow newspapers as well as influencers (the ones I respect anyway).
It took me a while to realise it, but I wasn’t looking at my friends’ updates, I was reading the comments on local pages or newspaper articles.
I have a keen interest in the world and politics so as you can imagine, I’ve had all the content I’ve needed to keep my mind ticking over for the last couple of years.
From Covid to Isis, I am that person avidly reading for updates….and comments.
It’s the comments that get you.
I’m waffling and I know this but there are so many aspects to cover on this subject, I really don’t know where to start.
So, I’m not going to talk about our ‘selfie state’. The images we portray on social media although it is relevant.
What I want to talk about is us, the human race and how we react to content on social media and I’m going to do that by sharing a couple of things that lately, took me to the ground.
A few months back, a tragedy happened in my local area. A toddler was killed. It was announced on the local police pages (yes, I follow those too) and the police asked that speculation was kept to a minimum so as not to damage the case.
By saying these words, they created mayhem. I’m talking thousands of comments condemning the parents before the facts had been brought to the surface.
Comment after comment after comment from perfect mums and dads who have never made a parenting mistake in their life. The verbal hatred was too much to bear and eventually, the police turned off comments until they were in a position to announce the truth.
As it happened, the stepfather was charged. To this day we still don’t know the details but there was enough information to draw on a ‘realistic’ conclusion.
Yet, it wasn’t the stepfather that caught the rough end of the troll abuse. It was the mother. The one who covered for him in the moment. The one who seemingly let this devastating and heinous crime happen. At no point did anyone stand up and ask why? Why did she cover it up? Why didn’t she stop him? No one even contemplated the idea that she had another young child to protect or that she too was under serious threat.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a mother and I can’t for one second contemplate what happened, but I can stand back and take a breath.
This was the start. The start of my mental health journey with Facebook. Once comments had been stopped on the original post, people were compelled to take to the personal Facebook pages of those involved with no thought for their family or others who would be devastated by this act. But is it really Facebook’s fault?
Not long after, there was another incident. One much closer to home. In fact, just a few streets away from me.
A two-year-old boy had been found dead in his home and his mother had been taken into custody.
Again, this was reported on social media by the police but this time, they did not turn off the comments.
It was reported that she was being held under the mental health act and that just gave ammunition to the masses.
This case absolutely tore me apart mentally. This is a mother I could have talked to at a local park.
Emotions were high and I understand that. No parent can contemplate hurting their child but not only was the mother subject to abuse for the act itself (although nothing had been confirmed at this time), the mental health act came under abuse for being a scapegoat for everything.
In a world where we constantly tweet #BeKind, here were thousands upon thousands of people discrediting that and actually condemning the idea that the mother could have had a serious mental health condition.
Admittedly, this story had more of an impact on me because I suffered from post-natal depression and then had a very serious case of prenatal depression with my second child. If you can try to imagine the worst thoughts a mother could have, I had them. In abundance.
I don’t talk about this very often because the guilt kills me inside. Although I am better and am so grateful for being a mother, I will never forgive myself for how I felt at that time. A time when I told no one what was really going on. A time when I hid it so well, one friend actually commented on how ‘chilled’ I was as a mother.
I didn’t have thoughts of hurting my children, but I did seriously consider hurting myself. When I couldn’t do that because I was pregnant, I made the decision to leave as soon as my daughter was born because they would absolutely be better off without me. Thankfully, I have the most amazing partner who spotted it in time and got me the help I needed.
But you see, although these thoughts posed no physical danger to my children, all it would have taken was one psychotic break and they could have been in trouble. A moment of madness, literally.
So, when this story broke, my thoughts immediately went to the mother. I didn’t want to condemn her. I wanted to hug her. A concept I know will be difficult for most to understand but I know that when she gets the help she needs, she will never be able to live with what she’s done. This was not a mother who didn’t love her child. This was a mother that for reasons we will never know, just broke.
Yet the comments kept on coming. The hate towards this woman was unbearable and it broke me.
I would cry uncontrollably, I contact the police and begged them to stop the comments (eventually they did but by then it was too late) but what’s relevant here, is that although I knew it was destroying me inside, I couldn’t stop reading them.
Then came ISIS (again). One of the newspapers covered a story about how the government wanted to help refugees and once again, the comments came.
“We need to look after our own first”, “We can’t even take care of our homeless” “Why should we?” It just went on and on and on and on. And yet, despite my deteriorating (almost destroyed) mental health, I kept on reading.
I began to wonder about the world we live in. How I didn’t want my children to grow up in a world that’s so full of hate. And it just took me deeper and deeper into this dark hole.
All because I had access to this hate on social media.
Eventually, I took myself off these groups and pages that I knew were sparking this negativity in my mind and I’m pleased to say that my mental health is now back on track.
But is it really Facebook’s fault?
Firstly, they can’t control local pages. Even the simplest post about fireworks causes an almighty row.
They can’t control what we, as human beings do. We choose our words. We choose to post these comments. We choose to read them. Freedom of speech allows us to do this.
They can control the newspapers. They can stop them from posting on social media but again, who is really responsible for the comments that come from the article? Facebook? The newspaper or us, the human race?
I suppose the point I’m making is that yes; Facebook can do more to protect our mental wellbeing but until we take a stand and stop spreading such vile hatred towards each other, it’s never going to happen.
We are quick to out trolls on social media, but the truth is, we are all guilty of it. We have all commented without thinking and we have all made someone feel bad about themselves with our words online.
Before we blame social media companies, perhaps we should take a long hard look at ourselves. Before commenting on a post, perhaps we should ask ourselves if this is something we would be brave enough to say to their face. Before we take someone down with our words, perhaps we should take a breath and consider all sides.
#BeKind has never been more needed. So next time you look at social media and you want to comment, think about the saying ‘stop feeding the trolls’ and more importantly, don’t be the troll.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you think? Is it really Facebook’s fault?