[Written By: Isabel Thomas]
[Photograph: Ruarí MacManus]
Like many others, I have a love/hate relationship with social media. It obviously has many pros; it fosters discussion, you can meet like-minded people, and it provides a network of support if necessary. However, after obsessively opening and closing apps for hours it also becomes very exhausting. When going through hard times, it can be hard to open up Instagram or Facebook only to see that everyone other than yourself seems to be having fun all the time and making the most of their lives. It’s difficult to remember that what you are seeing on your screen is just what people choose to upload, and that social media is such a tiny glimpse into someone’s life. At the end of the day, everybody has problems.
Political or social issues can also be overwhelming to face on social media on a daily basis. There is pressure to stay on top of news, and while I do think it is important to stay informed, it can become somewhat draining. One recent issue that has had a particular focus on social media is the stream of celebrities facing accusations of sexual harassment and assault. After the floodgates opened with Harvey Weinstein, more and more people feel able to share their own experiences of abuse. As a result of this, many more men in Hollywood have faced similar accusations – with the most recent accusations being levelled at Brett Ratner, James Toback, and Kevin Spacey. As important as it is to stay engaged with what is happening around you, you should not feel guilty for taking a break from social media when needed, as this onslaught of information can be overwhelming. You don’t have to feel guilty; you don’t have to think you are ignoring a big issue, or burying your head in the sand.
In response to the Harvey Weinstein accusations, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted about the #metoo campaign – originally founded by Tarana Burke – encouraging women to share their stories of sexual harassment or assault in order to highlight the prevalence of the problem: ‘If all the women who have ever been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem’. For many people, this campaign has created a sense of solidarity and empowerment; a recognition of the fact that they are not alone in their experiences. Yet for others – while appreciating the effort of the campaign – it can be overwhelming to log onto their social media accounts each day and see multiple stories of abuse and assault. Seeing some of my friends recounting their experiences of sexual assault on Facebook and Twitter made me so proud of them for feeling safe enough to share their stories, while on the other hand it made me feel utterly overwhelmed and helpless. It’s also true that those who do not feel comfortable sharing their experience in a public sphere might feel a sense of guilt that they are not able to contribute to this type of campaign.
I want to encourage anyone who feels uncomfortable to log off social media. It is okay not to join in, and you do not have to explain your reasons why. If you feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed, do not be afraid to take a break from the news cycle or social media; it does not mean that you are not a good feminist or that you do not care. While we should do our best to help other people and utilise the benefits of social media properly, sometimes you have to put yourself first.