Social Media and Vulnerability
Social media is such an integral part of so many people’s lives, that it is hard to imagine a life without Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It is the space where we get entertained, connect with old acquaintances, and participate in intellectual conversations. With so many different platforms, we can decide how we get involved, whom we befriend and what content we see. But social media also has a lot of downsides, especially on the platforms where anonymity is widespread and people don’t connect a username with an actual person. Bullying, harassment and hateful campaigns are just easier happened on Twitter than they are on Facebook.
But one thing that all platforms, not matter the different levels of anonymity, have in common is that people share way more about themselves, their feelings and who they are than they would have done just 20 years ago. Not only have many unfortunately lost the filters when it comes to hurting others without a second thought, we also open up more and leave ourselves more vulnerable to judgment and hurt.
How I use Social Media
I don’t really use social media the way the average person does. Twitter, Instagram and even Fetlife are just tools to promote my work and I sometimes speak up about issues I deem important. But I’m not personal, I don’t talk about how I feel or make myself vulnerable. On Facebook I am more of a lurker. I sometimes share memes or make a political statement. I like and comment on my friends’ posts and pictures. And I joined some groups because I love lengthy discussions about nerdy topics. But have I ever shared anything personal on Facebook, other than maybe major life changes? No.
This all fits very well in with the picture that I have of myself. I am trying to keep my walls up. Most of my real life friends and family members don’t know anything about my mental and physical illnesses. They don’t know anything about my life. A lot of times they are shocked when finding out that I don’t live in Europe anymore, that I am divorced and have remarried.
I just feel like I don’t need to share anything about myself on a public forum. It is not only the vulnerability. I think it is also the image I have built up on the different platforms. On Facebook I am very political and do advocacy about things that are close to my heart: mental health, animal rights, human rights, social activism. I come across as intellectual and engaged. On Twitter there is more the sex stuff and some shallow remarks. Instagram and Fetlife are only about pictures for me.
I think I get social media and I know how to work it without getting too much into trouble. Well, unless you count always somehow being close to an Instagram ban. But what I look at with fascination and horror is the ways in which people make themselves vulnerable. I don’t understand public meltdowns on social media. In real life it is definitely harder to walk away when you are angry, anxious or triggered.
But online? I read every tweet, post and message three times before I send it off. And I would never ever post anything that I know would make me seem unstable, weak or vulnerable. I don’t think those things are bad to be, or that people who have public meltdowns are in any way to be judged negatively. But I just don’t understand the lack of protection, the lack of filters and walls, and the ability to just let it out. I am jealous and fascinated, and also concerned about if it might backfire on them.
Judging Others and Vulnerability
Because while I don’t judge, I know that others do. Not everyone is supportive when it comes to mental illness, or emotional outbursts. Most people people probably see it more as a circus show than a representation of our society: we bare ourselves naked online like we have never done before. Privacy is not a thing anymore. And with that also comes more ego-centrism, more hatred for others and more need for attention. If we don’t get the likes, the comments or people say something negative, it hurts. But what we often forget is: everyone on social media is a real person with real feelings, with struggles, with the right to speak their mind. Just because you don’t violently beat them up, you can still emotionally and mentally abuse them.
This vulnerability, and nakedness, definitely can lead to more support, but also to more hurt. And because it is online, it is easy to forget that it is about real life. Mobs are quickly formed, whole lives ruined. Social media allows people to spread hate, to bully and to hurt others. And it has made it possible to be more open about ourselves without having to look another person in the eyes when we talk about our deepest thoughts and feelings. I personally think it is awesome to see how strangers connect because they have similar experiences, and how there often is huge support for minority groups. But I also see people who otherwise seem decent, join lynchmobs. This two-sided coin is what is scary about social media, especially when you are anonymous. You can go from being loved to being hated in a minute.
Anger and Jealousy
But all that doesn’t touch me personally. I am just not talking about private things, my daily struggles or my deep thoughts on public platforms. I am extremely careful. But I am also jealous, and sometimes angry. I wish I was able to be open about my mental illnesses, and my daily struggles. I wish I could talk about the suicide attempt I had last week. Or my absolutely draining insomnia and nightmares that have gotten worse. Or my physical issues that often leave me frozen and unable to do anything. But I can’t. I don’t want to be seen as that person.
Because that is the beauty with social media too: you decide how you present yourself. And while I am a mentally ill person with debilitating physical illnesses, I am also other things. And I want to rather be seen as those other things. I want to seem competent, intelligent, smart and woke on my Facebook. On Twitter and in relation to my blog I want to be be seen as knowledgeable, fun, sexy, and professional. And I portray those things well.
But that also means that I have to step away when I am struggling so badly that I can’t hold it together. That is why my engagement is often sporadic, why I don’t reply to messages and only do the minimum of promotion. It is because I know that the smallest trigger can leave me so vulnerable that I might not be able to use my filters well. I don’t want to be the person who has the meltdown because it would taint the image that I want to maintain. And it is funny when people message me and say things like: you are the most stable person in this whole issue, or that they admire my patience and calm.
I also get angry at myself. Not necessary because I don’t share. But because I judge people and my first thoughts aren’t always supportive. When I read rants that are clearly attention seeking and are all about the egocentric culture that we live in, I want to yell at that person. I want to tell them to shut up because their broken nail, late bus or burnt dinner are fucking minor issues in comparison to what I am going through. I want to tell them to get it together and be grateful for the good health and support system that they have around them. But really, I am not angry at them. I am angry at myself. I could get the supportive messages and comments too. The care-emoticons and hearts. But I can’t be vulnerable and I need to hold onto my image.
I believe that everyone’s feelings are equally important and valid. They are all on a scale of severity and sometimes reading how much someone else is struggling can put our own issues into perspective. I am just worried about how social media isn’t a safe space. Whatever you say, can be used against you. And while the ability to be vulnerable can be an asset, it can also be a point of attack. Without the filters and safe barriers we have with other people in real life, social media can seem like a warzone, inhabited by fighters who seem to forget that their proclaimed enemies are human too.