It might be contradictory for a midwifery blogger, but I have concerns about the online world.
It's easy to forget how recent it all is. Imagine you're a village midwife in the 1800s, regulated by the church and unconnected to the knowledge of others. Enter MatExp the Facebook group - what would those midwives have thought of it? It's mind-blowing how far we've come.
But the internet, and especially social media, can influence you in ways that aren't so great. I was watching the futuristic new drama 'Kiss Me First' on Channel 4 last night and it's a reminder about how compelling and manipulative the online world can be (quick aside here, watch it, it's brilliant!)
The human brain didn't evolve to be bombarded with colourful videos and images every few seconds. The distractions can mean important work gets put on the back burner and some of the content can make you feel pretty crap about yourself.
With the Facebook political/data/influence scandal going on in the news, it’s also at the forefront of my mind that we should be critically aware of the messages that are reaching us.
Here are my 4 top tips for making sure you're in charge of your online world, rather than it controlling you.
1. Know You're Allowed To Turn It Off
There are periods where I won't go on social media for 24 hours to ensure I'm getting my work done. My calendar, to-do lists and deadlines are important to me.
If you're finding online midwifery platforms too busy, or you're pulled down by the amount of content, please don’t worry that you’re missing out if you want to take a few days (or even a few weeks) off. Radical thought, eh!
It’s impossible to keep up with every tweet and blog post so taking breaks or concentrating on learning in the library is a fine option. You might be someone who enjoys having hard copies of midwifery journals. Or attending conferences in person can be an amazing way of learning.
It might sound obvious but you're not playing midwifery whac-a-mole - the content is there to access when you want it, it's not a game where you have to use all of it to win.
2. Concentrate On One or Two Platforms For Midwifery Learning
One of the problems we face online is it's totally overwhelming. Using Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and all the other platforms all at once often means you’re just grazing the surface of what’s available as opposed to actually following a link and reading the research or watching a video with your full attention. Popping in and out of a detailed conversation can leave you more confused than when you started.
I’d suggest getting really comfortable with your favourite one or two platforms. You’ll start to build up relationships with other users and in depth critique and support is much more likely. Effective learning and debate usually happen when there’s a human connection and for that, you often need to invest some time.
3. Understand The Downsides
Midwives and students have responsibilities when it comes to their conduct online. The Nursing and Midwifery Council also have certain expectations. You know all this already I’m sure so I won’t say much more, but you can check out their guidelines here.
Back to point 2 about only using one or two platforms – if you do this, it’s likely you’ll have gained midwifery contacts or friends you trust who will look out for you.
For instance, if you mistakenly post something that could be taken badly by a hospital or your university, someone you know can point this out and you can take it down. And if you’re not flicking between accounts, you’re more likely to see if you have messages and can stay on top of things.
Someone I’ve known for years posted a complaint about something the other day, and while it’s entirely her right to air her views, the reality is that it could have been taken out of context if a trust saw it. She was sounding off, but I know her well enough to realise she’d forgotten that even things behind privacy settings can make their way back to the public.
I don’t mean to sound domineering here, please trust your instincts and use social media as you see fit, but be aware that you’re using your public voice, with all the privilege and responsibility that comes with.
4. Remember You're Always Being Advertised At
With the exception of last night, I don’t watch a lot of TV these days. But when I’m around my friends’ houses and we have the box on it takes me a while to get used to the ads. They’re so colourful and fast and after a while of seeing unbelievably pretty women swimming around in a pond of perfume, I wonder how much it’s affecting me.
Advertising that comes with Facebook and Twitter must reach me constantly. Trying to avoid advertising in all its forms is kind of like trying to stop breathing to avoid air pollution, it’s not do-able. But I want to be in control of how I feel about this kind of content.
I like the screening questions that Brene Brown suggests in her book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’.
She says when you're watching an advert you should ask: 1/ Is what I'm seeing real life or fantasy? 2/ Does what I‘m seeing aim to turn my life or body into a commodity or object? and 3/ Who benefits from me seeing this – especially if it’s making me feel bad?
This last one is especially important for midwives, given their work with women at a life changing time.
These questions will also help you critically analyse messages about midwifery in the media. You can see more about this in my post here.
I run ‘The Secret Community for Midwives In The Making’ on Facebook and we have some amazing debates and learning opportunities and the amount of information and passion provided by independent midwives, consultants, and very experienced members of staff is staggering to me. Aspiring midwives are particularly well supported. I started the community as a bit of an experiment and never expected to be here four years later with a devoted moderator team and nearly 20,000 members.
Hence why midwifery online is so fascinating and important to me.
What are your thoughts? Leave me a comment letting me know which idea was most important for you. Or do you have any other points to make about midwifery and social media?
Take care, Ellie.
P.S. This post is not in any way a dig at any of the wonderful midwifery resources that are out there. We are so lucky to have these - examples include all4maternity.com and the Say no to Bullying in Midwifery Facebook group and of course my own Secret Community. I just want to share my thoughts.