Social Media or Social Online Hell?

by | Mar 14, 2022

Unless you have been living in a vacuum, you have no doubt heard of the drama unfolding daily in social media between Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, and Pete Davidson. While it is undeniably hard to turn away from this slow-moving train wreck, what it really reveals is the seedy underbelly of social media and the absolute Hell and pain it can cause to some.

For those not aware of the situation, Mr. West continues to post violent, abusive, and controlling content, videos, and messages on his social media aimed at Ms. Kardashian and Mr. Davidson in an effort to harass and control Ms. Kardashian and to eliminate and harm Mr. Davidson. Mr. West has been doing so under the guise of what he calls, “Art Therapy.”

Spoiler Alert: It is NOT.

What it IS is pure harassment and vitriol, as well as the unequivocal call for violence and harm. It is textbook abusive and dangerous behavior.

And it’s all allowed to exist in plain sight on social media for the world to see and – worse yet – for the world to participate.

There are those who are actively participating by joining and amplifying Mr. West’s violence and abuse, following his example, and joining in harassing the two victims. There are those who are watching gleefully, enjoying the online entertainment as if watching some sort of twisted soap opera.

Thankfully, there are some who are vehemently calling out this behavior for exactly what it is: violence. They are actively objecting to it and trying to protect and defend the victims.

But then there is ONE more group of active participants – the survivors of violence and abuse.

Survivors around the world are watching this horrifying drama unfold. The impact of this is causing them pain and fear as they are forced to relive their personal experiences with online (and even personal) violence, abuse, and control.

Why?

Because Mr. West continues his overt abusive behavior, unchecked and unabated on social media for ALL the world to see and participate, as he abuses one of the world’s richest and most powerful women.

The message is crystal clear – if Ms. Kardashian can’t escape the online, social media violence, harassment, and abuse (while the world watches), who can?

The Story of One Woman’s Struggle With Online, Social Media Hell

That brings us to Lilly’s story (her real name is not being used to protect her privacy). Lilly is a real person who is just 30 years old, and she identifies as queer.

About 10 years ago, Lilly began what she thought was a journey to health. It began innocently enough – posting images of her face and body, and detailing her weight loss goals and progress onto Facebook. Her efforts yielded comments of admiration, support and encouragement. She was spurred on by the positivity and provided more and more content as her body began to get slimmer and slimmer.

Once the online praise started, Lilly found herself hooked. As she described it, “It felt like that kind of became my method of receiving almost validation for how sick I was.”

You see, the online praise motivated her to keep losing weight, and more weight, and more, until she slowly and unknowingly developed a dangerous eating disorder. (Lilly is careful to explain that eating disorders are, “A very complicated issue,” and this was not the only reason she became sick.) So, how can online praise and admiration possibly contribute to her losing sight of what is healthy?

Social Media Likes and Notifications: For Some, the Drug of Choice

The science is clear, our brains get a hit of dopamine when we receive social media validation. According to a study by Pennsylvania University, for nearly 10% of Internet users, this need is psychologically addictive.

Dopamine is a chemical produced by the brain when we feel rewarded or pleasure. It also releases when we eat foods we find delicious, consume drugs, exercise or even gamble – and now when we get social media validation. For some, we crave it and this is partially what happened to Lilly.

Lilly continues, “They’d be like, oh my God, you look so good! I was posting to body-check myself. I was posting to kind of show people (that) I’m losing weight.” As she described it, “As my weight went down, my (Facebook) friends list sort of went up. All of a sudden I had like thousands of friends and you know, my weight continued to drop and people were complimenting me all the time and asking me how I did it.” The positive feedback and popularity was addictive and intoxicating.

But then it all started to change.

Fickle World of Social Media: From Admiration to Abuse

At first for Lilly, it was all compliments all the time, but then the comments started to shift. As she remembers, people started noticing something was very wrong as she started to get dangerously thin, and that’s when the attention began to shift from admiration to admonishment, to all-out abuse.

As she continued to chase the likes and her weight loss spiraled, the social media audience began to take notice. Just like with the Kardashian example, there were the entertained observers, the people pointing out the damage chiding her to stop – but then came the abusers.

As Lilly described it, “It is pretty mean, and pretty vicious sometimes.”

People got mean, really mean. And while Lilly recalls most of the abuse was from men, even women would join in. Some said whatever came to mind, no matter how cruel as Lilly remembers one man saying, “‘Where did your boobs go?’ It was shocking that people felt like they could say that kind of stuff to me.” She began to feel isolated, abused, and depressed. Her Facebook friends had turned on her. The abuse became so bad, she had to step back.

One day, after being on Facebook for her birthday, someone came after her online and as she remembers, “That’s when I really sat down with myself. (I was) like what are you getting out of this dumpster fire? Cause it’s definitely not the threat of having people harass you or having to worry about what people think about how I look. And I just kinda made the decision on my own to drop it even though I felt like I relied on it so much.”

It was a decision that likely saved her life.

Ten Years Later and On the Road to Healthy

Thankfully, Lilly was able to start a long road to recovery and is in treatment for her eating disorder. She had to take a break from social media, and she had to focus on her mental and physical health. She began working with Amy and has made significant strides towards her health and happiness. 

It has been 10 long years later and Lilly is currently only on Instagram (although she no longer makes posts) and a little on Snapchat, but has since purged herself of all other platforms. She uses social media in a way that makes her feel good and does what she needs to do to stay healthy, happy and safe. Here are her suggestions:

  • She became a social media observer who rarely posts or engages
  • She follows only Body Neutral people online
  • She uses social media to engage in the activities that make her happy (she loves juggling and hula hoop)
  • She closely limits her exposure to negativity and bad content

The Social Media Fear Still Lingers

But, despite the healthier social media engagement, the fear of online abuse is always in the back of her mind, but now for a different reason. It has been more than 10 years since the disorder began, and during her road to recovery, her healthier body is not as thin as it once was. Those thin and emaciated images still exist online, so now Lilly has a different fear. “I’m horrified of people seeing me now and thinking like, what did she do? Because I feel like I don’t owe them an explanation about my health history, right?”

For people who have experienced it, the pain of online abuse is omnipresent. Whether you are one of the world’s richest women like Kardashian, or someone like Lilly. Online social media abuse can make life a living Hell.

What starts off as a way to feel good (for Lilly), or a way to make money (like Kardashian), social media can go from admiration to all-out abuse with devastating emotional and even physical damage.

Do You (or Someone You Know) Have an Addiction to Social Media, Suffer from Online Abuse, and/or Have an Eating Disorder? Help is Available – You Are Not Alone!

If you believe you or someone you know is suffering from the ill effects of social media or even an eating disorder, a joy-filled life is possible. We can work one-on-one with you to make that life a reality. We believe in living a fully recovered life. Our team of specialists will develop a personalized treatment plan for you/your loved one. Contact us today … You are not alone in this battle.

Want to find out how New Hope Counseling & Wellness can help YOU?

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