A good friend of mine had put up one of those ‘copy and paste this onto your status if you care’ posts on Facebook. It was on mental illness, something I feel passionate about. But I didn’t repost. And then I felt bad about it.*
Does anyone else have problems like this?
My reasons for not sharing these posts range from not having time to consider them properly, to having an overwhelming number of these posts on my feed, to knowing another friend who’s experiencing the issue right now and not wanting them to think my status is because of them.
Also, even if the topic is really important, I don’t like being pushed into action. I’d much rather learn something and share in my own time.
I don't want to let people down, though. I really care about these issues and I'm devastated that people I know are suffering from a lack of support.
But my other concern with this kind of post is that they often contain subtle messages of shame. You know the kind of thing - ‘if you’ve read this far you’re better than most’ or ‘if you’re a true friend you’ll...’.
I suspect for every person who reposts, there are many more who scroll past uncomfortably, just because of the wording.
Even when a subject is as important as miscarriage, infant death or mental illness, I don’t think using shame as a teaching/communication tool is a good idea.
Shame might change our behaviour in the short-term but it doesn’t do anything for the issue. It doesn’t offer the individuals going through it any true empathy or help. It doesn't give us meaningful tools for discussion.
These ‘copy and paste’ posts evolved for technical reasons. They’re a powerful way of spreading a message as there's no deleting the ‘parent’ and all the shares in one go: when a post is being copied and pasted, you can't stop it travelling. The original post can’t be traced by Facebook and I’ve read the format is associated with scams.
You can see why people want to use this type of post for taboo topics. They get shared. It’s so much easier to paste something about mental illness than it is to come up with your own comment.
I guess this is the definition of a taboo topic: it’s hard to talk about. And then marketing techniques designed to take advantage slip into the cracks.
I have a suggestion.
These days if I see a ‘copy and paste’ post on a subject I care about, instead of reposting, I leave a comment.
‘I care about this and I don’t always get my approach right. I found x (book, film, documentary etc.) very helpful in understanding. I wish we could talk about it more and I’ll commit to trying to be brave and asking people how they’re doing when the issue comes up. I'll try and hold a space for them to tell their story and understand. All my best to you and yours, Ellie x’
Adding to the conversation lets people know you care. If I was suffering from postnatal depression, for example, and saw a comment like this written by someone I loved, as opposed to a viral repost, I'd feel much more cared for and understood.
It takes more time and more courage but this approach feels right to me.
A further suggestion.
If you're feeling really brave and you want to start a conversation about something taboo, can I propose you make some art?
Draw something and upload it, write a poem, write a song, make an area of your garden into a shrine and show us.
Make us understand your experience. This is so much more powerful than anything copied.
It's braver because it's a part of you that you're putting out there.
I know this won’t be for everyone but if you’re considering it, know that it doesn’t matter how ‘good’ your art is.
In my experience, people on social media today wandering through adverts of jeans (filled by unattainable sized bottoms) and angry fake news stories are desperate for truth.
They’ll recognise the freshness, authenticity and reality of your work many Facebook miles away.
Just to clarify, I’m not having a go at anyone who’s put together these kind of posts or those who’ve copy and pasted them. I know how hard it is to get heard. There are good people out there using this strategy too. It's just I think we can do better?
And, I suspect there's also an argument to be made that I've overthought all this and I should get off Facebook and go and do some writing of my next novel!
But I'd love to hear from you. What are your thoughts? Leave me a comment letting me know!'
*(I do have full permission to write this post by the way).