Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Social Networking and Trending

Part of the Cestrian Dreams Project
Article author: Alwyn Ash

Social networking can be a blessing to so many, but a danger also. I take a look at just why Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and other sites should be a place of concern...

Ever since the creation of Twitter, an online social networking and microblogging service that allows users to send and read text-based messages (of up to 140 characters) known as "tweets", the world has never been the same again. The site was created by American Jack Dorsey in 2006 and has allowed people globally to connect. It is used not just by every day people but by politicians, publishers, charities, artists, religious figures etc.

It is a place where thoughts and opinions, emotions, ideas and projects, lunch tweets, photographs, and much more are shared to fellow followers. The community is wide ranging, many friendly and responsive. However, there are dangers, and these are the reason for this article. Some are so concerning that more needs to be done to highlight the problems that arise from tweeting, trending and following.

And so to tweeting. While some protect their tweets (their account is private and only "accepted" followers may read them), there are so many who just fail to understand the importance of what they write. General information i.e. "Going to town later" and "I had pizza for lunch" is fine, but how about "I'm bored. Anyone want to talk - my number is ***********" or perhaps something so personal about that person that it can be misused later, either by a follower or someone who randomly searches tweets?

As with Facebook, what you say can make a difference to your privacy and safety. Never meet someone you have recently followed on Twitter (or have become friends with on Facebook) - be cautious, and even tell your parents! And then there is another concern, "trending"

We all love a good trend, and it is always joyful when we see something that deserves recognition. Even the fun trends raise a smile. Sadly, I do wish words like "Depression" and "MentalHealth" would trend daily, with Twitter users sharing their personal stories and linking to helpful and insightful articles. It would be so encouraging to know that understanding is, at last, beginning to be embraced by the majority. And that is my dream - and the reason for Cestrian, to highlight awareness and hope that people will learn more about this devastating illness.

Recently I have been appalled by the so-called #cutforbieber, which urges fans of popstar Justin Bieber to cut themselves. While many label these young girls (and boys) as obsessed and their actions outrageous, surely this behaviour goes much deeper and further than just self-harming for a "singer"?

It is heartbreaking to see so many beautiful young people who post photos of their cutting on Twitter via sites like TweetPic to show the world their devotion to the cause.

As someone who self-harms, I can understand what it takes to reach that point. The "trend" isn't just a destructive idea, it is a trigger to those who quite clearly struggle with life, and their emotions. In reply to these recent events, one Twitter user said, "some people have genuine reasons for self harm, it isn't something to joke about. these pathetic little girls cutting over bieber, grow up". However, from my point of view, they aren't "pathetic little girls", their scars (both physical and emotions) are serious and go back further than a "trend".

And if there are some who have cut only because of this trend, then surely this is a matter that needs attention too? What is so wrong with "celeb-worshiping" that a young person would go to such extremes?

More help and understanding is required. Mental health needs to be the number one priority for both professionals, society and celebrities. Whilst therapists, hospitals, and charities are working hard to open up doors to sufferers, many celebrities could do more. There are some who suffer with mental illness too, and they have gone public to help us understand, but so many still have no idea of the impact the likes of depression has on a sufferer and fail to act by supporting charities and individuals. Voices need to be heard, and social networking is the way forward, if it is used positively.

I believe in young people being given the freedom to express themselves, write online and enjoy reading and following whatever they want. But there needs to be a tighter hold on what "trends". Surely Twitter, with the power to close accounts and remove illegal content, could act quicker in intervening before a trend gets to reach too many people? But then, retweets and the even greater power of the internet (and cellphones) always find a way to overcome those who act with good intentions.

So, once more, the answer lies in better understanding, education, and support. Parents and schools need to do their part in combating the problem that affects their children in a technological world. There needs to be a level of trust between adult and child, a support system by which young people can ask for help and advice. Childline in the UK is a fabulous source, as are their guidlines on social networking.


Cestrian Dreams was founded by Alwyn Ash in December 2012, with the aim of highlighting mental illness, raising awareness, and helping to overcome the stigma associated with the disease. Originally set up with its very own website, Cestrian has now been incorporated with Alwyn's personal site.

"1 in 4 will suffer with some form of mental health issues"