Saturday 4 November 2023

Finding kindness and community on social media

Madeleine explores how social media can be used for good, and what positive impacts it can bring to mental health.

- Madeleine Chamberlain

I have always had a love-hate relationship with Instagram. I first downloaded the app and others (like Facebook) when I was finishing up school, and so I missed the influence of social media while I was growing up. As a result, I wasn't aware of the trends and pressures these sites give to people, especially young women. 

For a while, I thought of it as a negative source of pressure, something which I tried to limit my use of. It still contains influencers who occasionally promote unhealthy attitudes to body image, and often prompts people to compare themselves to others in a negative light. However, in recent years, I have seen the positive benefits of Instagram. It is a place where people can bond over mutual interests and form online communities. Or it can simply be a place to check up and see what your friends have been up to. A way to express yourself, and show a bit of your personality to the world. 

While it is important to acknowledge that social media is not real life, and comparison can have negative impacts to our mental health, I believe it can be used for good...

Forming communities   
An online study influencer has a weekly post where she encourages her followers to comment something kind about the previous commenter’s Instagram page. Things like this can allow online communities to form, helping people feel more connected. Social media became even more important in COVID-19 lockdowns, helping people stay in touch, and lifting spirits with online challenges. While there are downsides to being online frequently, I have found healthy boundaries with social media can make them a help rather than a hindrance.  

Promoting causes close to you  
Social media has a great way of having so much reach, things like online petitions can go a long way. Important causes can be listened to and action can be taken as a result. This can help me feel less helpless when disasters or social justice matters occur. I can feel like I’m contributing to the solution, rather than having a sense of disconnect.   

Staying connected to friends  
While it is important to have in-person conversations with friends and loved ones, being able to see what my friends have been up to is something I love about social media. When life gets busy and meet-ups are in the distant future, being able to have a look at what my friends have been up to makes me feel more connected and up to date. While it in no way replaces face-to-face meet-ups, being able to write a comment here and there to friends’ posts and start conversations from Instagram stories helps to feel connected. This feeling of community can be so important for mental health.  

Self Expression  
Another thing I love about Instagram and social media is the ability to express myself and create content I enjoy. I like sharing my hobbies and interests online, and I enjoy seeing other people’s passions and creations take form on social media. Whether it’s simply sharing my current favourite song, or posting a poem I’ve written, I enjoy sharing my interests with my friends on social media. I think expressing yourself online can have positive impacts on self-confidence and mental health, so long as it is alongside healthy boundaries and limits.  

I have often lingered over the idea of deleting social media apps, but I always come back to the idea of community and self-expression. While social media has its downsides, I can see how it can be used for kindness and community building. This is not to say it’s all sunshine, but if used and tailored in the right way, social media can be used for good.

We want to hear your stories! Share your thoughts this Social Media Kindness Day. 

I'm Madeleine, a graduate of the University of York. I love writing and reading other people's stories, and so being on the Student Minds Editorial Team seemed like a no-brainer! While social media has its downsides, I wanted to share how we can use it for good.

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