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Michelle Wade Jul 6, 2011

Social Media: Unhealthy Ranting or Healthy Venting?

As my Facebook and twitter feeds became overrun with personal comments and status updates regarding the recent verdict of the Casey Anthony case, I found myself questioning the need for the comments. I’m not going to get into my own beliefs about the trial or the verdict, but I do want to talk about the use of social media in expressing emotions and thoughts.

Some of the things I read, written by highly educated individuals who are normally rather complacent, were intense and direct and aggressively worded. Rational friends of mine expressed overt anger and implied violence. Shock and awe would be the theme of the feeds. And I found myself asking was this really a good way to express frustration?

There’s a danger to social media that I think opponents of social media focus on…the over self-indulgence of social media. And it is true, some individuals use twitter and facebook as the community announcement board for everything from what they had for lunch every day to every boring detail of a roadtrip. But at the same time, people are expressing themselves. We are a profession that encourages self-expression and yet I sense that some would rather social media not exist. Maybe some of the things I read in my feeds was not eloquent expressions of outrage, but they were expressions nonetheless. The anger was channeled into something passive rather than being taken out on friends or family.

Here’s the catch though, I’m not sure it is always channeled into passivity and kept at just expression. I fear that facebook and twitter can be used negatively in regards to a cyber-mob mentality. I think this concept is where the category of cyberbullying would be found. The “anonymity” of the net allows people to jump onto bandwagons so to speak and spread like wildfire. Positively, the cyber-mob mentality can be used to express political change (Iran) but negatively it can be used to crush self-esteem and endanger someone’s life. And it is a very thin line between the two.

So, the question comes up of how do we as counselors encourage self-expression in a way that comes natural and easy for some of our clients while also helping them keeping some healthy boundaries on that expression? What is the distinction between rant and vent? Who decides if that expression is healthy or unhealthy? Can we use social media therapeutically to encourage that self-expression from individuals who normally would keep it bottled up?

Michelle E. Wade is a counselor and doctoral student focusing on in-home therapy and technology in counseling.

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