I Shouldn't Want To Work In Social Media...

By Lucy Harbron - 14:00

Art by @gabriellerosie

I shouldn’t want to work in social media. 

Though I denied it at the time, social media played a huge role in the start of my depression. When I was 13, I’d spend all night, every night scrolling its dark underbelly. Before we all wised up, before the days of safety filters or general awareness of mental health triggers, the internet was a dark place for a teenage girl. In the early 2010s, I would spend hours on Tumblr, scrolling through images glorifying self-harm, posts describing suicide step-by-step as a heroic and compassionate act, pro-ana pictures with long captions bragging about the diminishing number of calories girls I didn’t know were eating each day. On Instagram, all our lives were perfect and pastel pink, the closest we came to vulnerability was sharing Perks Of Being A Wallflower quotes underlined in pink highlighter and full stopped with a heart. My friends were in it too and as I slipped into it, it all became some weird twisted competition of who’s depression could pull in the most followers. 

I wonder if I would have ever self-harmed if it wasn’t for Tumblr. I didn’t even know it was a thing before friends started reblogging images of cuts nested in mounds of bracelets like they were just another accessory. Early 2010s social media made mental illness seem so glamorous, it was hard to separate that from the images of fashion and celebs when they all came with the same filter and same number of likes. My mum forced me to shut down my Tumblr account and I didn’t get a new account until like 2016. I struggled with self-harm intensely and then sporadically until around that time. 

It almost feels like an embarrassing thing to talk about, that the internet made me hurt myself because it seemed like a cool thing to do. But it’s really no different to anything else, the internet made me want that coat, that hair, listen to that album, watch that film. We’re fickle creatures, see something enough and you’ll want it. If enough people seem to find solace and a sense of identity or even popularity through self-destruction, you’re going to want to try it. It’s peer pressure on a global scale, made all the more sinister behind a veil of fakery and catfishing and sparkly visuals. 

So the fact that my job, to a degree, is to make these sparkly visuals to sell bags and shoes, seems nonsensical. Why would I want to work in social media after my early relationship with these platforms was so fucked up? Well, because I launched a blog, I started a magazine, I made best friends, I found new interests, I learnt new things, I engaged with politics, I kept up with the news, all because of it. Because I found all the best parts of it the second safety filters stopped me going looking for the worse. 

Social media has endless potential. It’s made a whole generation of young people engage with politics and movements that started years ago or worlds away, it’s allowed us to hear the voices of underrepresented groups and activists, it’s introduced us to artists and bands and filmmakers that would never have managed to get that level of exposure without Facebook. It’s got power, good and bad, but I think overwhelmingly good. From the darkness of 2010 to now, I’ve seen a tilting. My daily scroll has been slowly changing from images of stick-thin illness shaming me, to images of joy as women like Florence Given and BodyPosiPanda dance round rolls and all, telling me to do the same. Just as platforms have wised up, cottoned onto destructive topics and their associated tags, so have we. It’s great that Instagram asks if you need support when you find yourself looking at tags related to eating disorders or self-harm, but 13-year-old me would have simple clicked proceed and scrolled through anyways despite the warning. The big change now is that I would be distracted.

Back then, my feed was undisrupted. No one really talked about things, so with no one shouting about recover how was I to know to go and seek it? 

I’ve hardly changed who I follow, never having the patience to do a deep purge of my 3000+ following list, but my feed has changed. Old pro-ana accounts now talk about recovery, girls that used to post black and white quote images of Effy Stonem like she was royalty, now talk about the empowerment of showing their scars in public and teaching their babies the importance of self-care from a young age, my likes of support have put boring, flawless influencers to the bottom of my feed and community guidelines have hidden the worse images from the site all together. There’s been a shifting from glamour to realism, vanity to vulnerability, cool self-destruction to cool self-care. I’d been thinking it for a while, holding the thought close as motivation to keep moving in their industry with my passion to help keep this happy change happening, and then Twitter backed it up.

A couple of weeks ago twitter released some research on the change in cultural conversation that they’ve seen over the past 3 years, analysing billllllions of tweets to see what we talked about then versus now. Here are some of the top stats:

Discussion of self-care and well-being is up 225% while talk of dieting and detoxing is down 52%.

We focus more on the topics of mental health as a community topic, talking about support and unity far more. Conversation around mental health is up 122% and goodwill hashtags covering topics like charitable giving and issue awareness are up 582%.

Sustainability is now one of the biggest topics on the site with conversation up 179% and talk of holding corporations accountable for their effect on the environment is up 825%.

Conversation around the ethics of technology and safety online is up 179%.

Discussion of representation and equality is at an all-time high, up 468%.

Overall, we seem to be getting nicer. Our online behaviours seem to be becoming more positive, more socially aware, kinder. Obviously, there’s issues. Instagram guidelines regularly discriminates against female bodies, shadow-banning affects performers, data security is generally terrifying, but our feeds feel nicer. 

My experience isn’t uncommon, maybe that’s why. We all want the good of social media without the fear of finding the dark side of it again, all cautious of our profiles becoming the sickly-sweet dangerous aspirational bullshit that made us hate our lives before, all still remaining a little careful and cautious of triggers that would have slammed us down 8 years ago. As we’ve changed our mentality, we changed the landscape; the kind of positive influence these sites needed, not brand-sponsored beach photos. Now activists win influencer of the year awards, we’re looking to real people more and more for inspiration and in effect, forcing brands to keep up with us, making the billboards round town more reflective of the people walking past them. 

I shouldn’t want to work in social media, but I do for that exact reason. I want it to be better, I want to be able to enjoy all the benefits it brought to my life without having my day ruined by someone telling me I need to drink laxatives to love myself. I want real people dancing around, cute dogs being funny, activists making change, casual images of self-care, real talk about real news leading to real action. I want it to stay good and stay getting better, I want to be able to say I helped. 

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