• Clara Balon

Facebook as Therapy

More and more women are using social media to seek advice - but is this dangerous?

A few nights ago, I fell down a Facebook rabbit hole. What started out as me reading an innocent post from a twenty-something girl in a group of similarly aged people, asking for recommendations for a hairdresser in North London, quickly turned into dark stories, some anonymous, some published under the author’s name, public.

I can put a face to a name by clicking on their profile, where I can also see what country and city they live in, and even what they do for work. These young women have been so vulnerable in front of me and all the other members in the group, and yet they don’t know me or anyone else on a personal level. Part of me applauds their bravery, putting themselves out there to ask for advice and support, and at the same time reassuring every other woman in the same situation that she is not alone. But another, much bigger part of me, the same part that was brought up being told not to speak to strangers as a young child, and later to stay safe online by not sharing personal details, is deeply worried.

The Facebook group I am in, Truly Twenties, was set up on the back of a TikTok that went viral. Its primary purpose is to connect young women in their twenties across the world, forming a huge international community of women, as well as smaller, local communities that have connected through the group. The group gets tens if not hundreds of posts a day; women ask for everything – advice and recommendations on makeup, clothes, hair, gifts, jobs, travel, friendships, and more - but there is also a darker side. I have spent hours reading deeply sad, even harrowing posts on this group, learning the secrets of strangers (although these stories are essentially published in the public domain), and it’s led me to wonder what could lead these women to make such desperate and public pleas for help. The most common problems I’ve identified young women as having are related to relationships, with a heart-breaking number of twenty-somethings questioning their self-worth in relation to their partner, sharing stories of sexual assault and rape and over-analysing every encounter, to the point where they feel that the best outlet for this anxiety is writing a post asking for advice on Facebook. Issues around self-esteem carry on into posts about family problems, with young women often feeling frustrated with their family, sometimes even scared - they look to others who can relate, offer hope for a better future, or practical advice. I’ve seen posts asking about surgery, clothes, feeling ugly, worthless, and how to overcome social pressures of sexualisation. Sadly, most of the posts have negative undertones – maybe that’s because those that are happy don’t feel compelled to post about it – but the picture that emerges is of a broken community of young women, seeking solace in starting a conversation with others who have had similar experiences.

This is where a series of potential problems lie. I understand why someone might look for advice from a stranger, as sometimes friends, family, or a partner are just too close to a problem (or in some cases are the source of it) to be able to give meaningful advice. Nevertheless, there is an argument to be made that the only people who should be handing out potentially life-altering advice are professionals. But seeing a therapist or other trained professional is not possible for many, and this must be recognised. So is the next best thing to get support from others at a similar stage of life, experiencing similar problems? This is where the dangers of unhealthy echo chambers begin. This is why domestic violence counsellors, women’s shelters, and other professional advice and support resources exist.

I can see that women have been helped by the kind support of strangers, and have gone on to write gushing posts about it - they have benefited from taking advice from the Facebook group. I strongly believe that, so long as you are aware of the potential dangers around it and, consequently, exercise caution, taking all advice with a pinch of salt, there is nothing wrong with asking for advice. It does make me wonder though: how desperate for help would I have to be to write a post detailing my trauma? This is where admins come in. The admins of Truly Twenties appear to take a fairly liberal approach to posting content; I have seen some harrowing posts, so I genuinely don’t know where they draw the line (they do at least ensure that appropriate content warnings are posted.) I wanted to learn more about this, so I reached out to the founder, Elle Wilmot, but did not get a response.

Sharing is always a personal choice. Fundamentally, everyone should be free to share whatever they need to (within appropriate boundaries of things that are objectively offensive or in other ways unacceptable.) However, I believe there should be more accessible professional support in place. More support exists for under-18s, but it feels as though the audience of Truly Twenties, predominantly women aged 20-25, have been forgotten. I would challenge any Government Minister to read the posts of these women and not believe that more needs to be done to support them, because right now it feels like the community is moving more than ever into social media. As young women shout their problems into the void, the voices of strangers on social media should not be the only thing they are hearing back.


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