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Despite trolling social media can still be a force for good

9 July 2014
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The rise of social media has increased interconnectivity amongst people and communities. Arguably, we live in two worlds: in one world we communicate with others face-to-face and in the other; where all forms of traditional communication can be avoided through the use of the internet – a ‘virtual world’. Some may argue that social media promotes a life of isolation, where we are hooked to our phones, constantly replying to emails, texts, calls and tweets, and so leaving little time to ourselves or face-to-face time with others.

Not to mention the internet trolls lurking about. Trolling is a form of cyber bullying, where people use social media to terrorise and threaten others. In my eyes, trolling is a cowardly way to express what is most likely to be an uneducated opinion. Take Vanessa Feltz as an example; she recently admitted to being sexually abused by Rolf Harris. In doing so, Feltz was attacked by internet trolls who responded with cruel comments, accusing her of being fame-seeking and money grabbing?! Not only might this discourage other sexually abused victims of reporting attacks, but it reveals a much darker side to social media and how it can actually be seen as force for evil.

However, I believe it is important to recognise that social media also has the power to enhance our ability to communicate with others.

Recent events have shown the significant impact social media can have on society. Bethany Townsend, aged 23, suffers with Crohn’s disease. She posted a photo on Facebook of herself, wearing a bikini along with two colostomy bags. This photo has gone viral, and impressively has had over 9 million views. Since then, many other Crohn’s sufferers have taken selfies which show their colostomy bags, along with a message beside the picture to support others in their position. I believe this demonstrates well the power of social media: one picture posted online has raised awareness of Crohn’s disease, and has provided sufferers of Crohn’s with the confidence to reveal their bodies to the public. This powerfully shows how social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram can be influential and life changing.

According to the NHS, there are currently at least 115,000 people living with Crohn’s in the UK. Crohn’s is a long-term condition that causes inflammation of the digestive system. It is a harsh disease which inhibits the sufferer’s ability to digest food, absorb nutrients and eliminate waste. Bethany’s photo has had a massive impact; people who were previously unaware of Crohn’s now have a more positive attitude towards the disease, and it has helped sufferers comes to terms with their condition. The reaction to Bethany’s photo has been hugely positive; it has even inspired her to pursue a career in modeling.

It is encouraging to see how quickly a simple post on the internet can spread and how far such news can travel. Stephen’s story is an example of how effective social media can be. Stephen Sutton was diagnosed with an incurable cancer when he was 15. He then began fundraising with the Teenage Cancer Trust, a charity which is supported by several celebrities including Jason Manford. After Manford posted a picture online with Stephen saying #thumbsupforStephen, the public was asked to share selfies of themselves to support the charity. The reaction was overwhelming and powerful, creating a surge in donations with the final figure reaching an astounding £3.2m for the Teenage Cancer Trust. If that isn’t social media at its best, then I don’t know what is!

The ‘20 Day Stranger’ app embodies the creativity of social media and its power to influence and change perceptions. It is an inventive application that enables two strangers to share their everyday experiences anonymously. The app tracks your location and records what you are doing, from eating breakfast to meeting up with friends for a coffee. This information is then sent to your anonymous partner. The aim is to fuel imagination and encourage mindfulness. We essentially are given the opportunity to see life from another perspective. I believe this form of social media can have a massive impact – providing the opportunity to perhaps see how a Crohn’s sufferer like Bethany carries out their daily life.

In my placement at Forster I’m now seeing firsthand the integral role social media plays in communications programmes. Forster has worked with Electrical Safety First and created the charity’s first smartphone app. Not only has the app been downloaded over 40,000 times, but Electrical Safety First’s Facebook likes have risen from a mere 8 to 4,000! These results show how powerful social media can be – from selfies to web apps. It is this type of social media innovation which is not only changing the way we think, but also the way we behave for the better.

Elana Freeman, aged 20 – second year student at the University of Nottingham

Work experience placement at Forster Communications.