Woman experiences the toxic effects of social media
It is common knowledge that social media can have a negative impact on people’s mental health and worldview. From dopamine-induced anxiety and depression to highlight roles that evoke feelings of inadequacy, to misinformation and online bullying, the effects of social platforms are becoming better understood.
While these experiences are pretty universal, there are also reasons why social media can have an even more negative impact on people who have marginalized identities.
Real examples of online harassment
Pew Research shows that 41% of US adults have personally experienced online harassment, with LGBTQIA + people more than twice as likely to experience serious harassment as heterosexual people and women more than twice as likely as men to find this harassment “very annoying” is. They also found that over the past three years the number of reports of gender-based harassment has increased by 65% and that of ethnic origin has increased by 53%.
While online harassment can take many forms, sexual harassment can feel uniquely invasive in spaces meant to be professional or platonic.
“I feel undermined when I’m sexually approached in a room trying to network for professional growth. It feels like my looks determine my worth and worth to others, not my abilities, ”said Al Tearjen, a software engineer and startup founder.
Madison Butler, a DEI director and spokesperson, shared similar experiences. “That is often annoying. The internet is a scary place full of people who are even more scary. After someone showed up at my home last year, I’m always careful about how I react to sexual advances. It often feels like women can’t win in these areas, ”Butler said.
Tone policing and gas lighting
Real examples of gas lighting and tone policing
Tone policing and gaslighting are two common tactics aimed at reducing and silencing what people share on social media. Tone policing is when someone tries to override the validity of a person’s statement by attacking the tone in which it was presented, rather than the message itself; Gaslighting is a form of manipulation in which someone denies the reality that another person is experiencing.
Both phenomena occur more frequently in asymmetrical power systems, which means that women and people of color are more often tone-controlled and gas-lit. Butler conducted an experiment that confirmed this: “I had someone with a dominant identity who posted a copy of my content on their page. Not only did they not get the same hateful comments as me, but LinkedIn also deleted my post while keeping it, even though it was literally a copy / paste of my original content. ”
Inaccessible highlight roles
The highlight roles and picture-perfect bottom line results of social media and professional networking sites can make anyone feel inadequate. And because of the systemic oppression that exists in the world, issues often emerge that hit marginalized identities harder. Examples for this are:
- An executive promotion announcement on LinkedIn may seem inaccessible to women of color who hold 9% of senior positions.
- The news of a new home purchase might feel out of reach for people of color as 81% of home sales are made by white buyers.
- Photos of a wedding on Instagram could make same-sex couples feel left out as 31 states (no longer nationally) have laws banning same-sex marriages.
- An announcement of startup funding on Twitter could spark resentment among the women who received 2.3% of the venture dollars last year.
People who share their profits generally don’t try to be malicious or insensitive. And at the same time, spending time in places that highlight inaccessible benefits can hurt the mental health of those who don’t have fair opportunities to do the same – especially if only the profits are shared without the bumps in the path to getting there.
“I find it extremely difficult. I’ve always been told, “If you work hard, you’ll achieve great things,” but that’s not always true. I’m looking at these posts from victories in areas I’m having trouble wondering what could I have done differently to be like her? Then I wonder how much my life would be if I were, say, a man – maybe I could have posted that, ”said Tearjen.
These cases of harassment, gaslighting, tone policing, and inaccessibility that hit marginalized identities more heavily on social media are one of the reasons it is so important to have safe and authentic centered spaces – both online and offline.