A Place to Speakeasy: Finding Supportive Community on Social Media

By most accounts, the 2016 election cycle was brutal. It was long and nasty and it many ways it seemed to bring out the worst in us. Nowhere was this more pervasive than on social media, where inaccurate news was shared as fact and people verbally attacked those who disagreed with them. And while it may have felt transitory at the time, it appears to be the new normal. It’s no wonder then that a number of people left social media (especially Facebook and twitter), or decided to take a hiatus from the medium at one time or another.

This last idea isn’t such a bad one, as studies have confirmed that large doses of social media consumption can have negative effects on one’s mental health. I totally understand where these social-media-quitters are coming from. But for me, leaving social media wasn’t a viable option – it’s how I stay in touch with a family spread across the country and former students spread across the world. And for all the negative stories – and the few posts I resist the urge to scream at through my screen – social media has also become a haven for me. It’s a place I go when I need advice, comfort and sympathy.

It’s not just social media in general that provides this help, but especially the Facebook groups I have recently joined. These groups, in my mind, show us what social media can be – a space for unifying people and sharing ideas. I had used Facebook groups before, mainly to share information with those traveling on study abroad trips, but it wasn’t until I became a parent that I realized how valuable these groups could be. Right around the time my daughter was born, I was added to two fb groups for mothers in my city. One has a much larger following and the other includes maybe 30 women, most of whom I know personally or who are friends of friends. So depending on what type of advice I need and how personal I want to get, I will post on one or the other.

It is through these two groups that I found a wonderful newborn photographer, a pediatrician that we love (who just happens to be a five-minute drive from our house) and a carrier that suits my child and me. I also can go to these groups when a weird rash appears, my child won’t sleep or I need assurance that it is just a phase when my child throws herself screaming on the floor for no apparent reason. Mind you, I do sometimes pose medical questions, and more often then not I get the good advice that “if in doubt, call the doctor.” But it is helpful to hear that I am not overreaching, and to read the stories of mothers who have dealt with some of the same issues. These groups, especially the smaller one, have been a lifeline at a time when I really needed support from people going through the same things. And the social media aspect of this is crucial: because the other members and I are all super-busy, if we had to arrange an in-person meeting to talk about these things, it would be a long wait.

More recently I was invited to join a much larger Facebook group created specifically for mothers in academia. With followers from all around the globe, the opportunities for significant feedback are immense. This group is an outlet through which to share stories of accomplishment and to express frustrations experienced by many mothers in the academy. It’s a place where academic pieces are shared alongside interesting blog posts, where job listings are posted and where issues such as how to deal with children at academic conferences are debated. Because this group is international, it has given me some additional insights into how issues I am dealing with might be handled in different contexts, institutions and cultures. This new group has been a great find, and I am thankful to be able to learn from and share with these academic mothers.

Despite what seems to be pervasive fighting on social media, it can at times, be a healthy space: these new Facebook groups have helped me deal with some of the uncertainties of motherhood, and with some of the challenges associated with being an academic mother. If you are looking to find a social media group where you can find community – be it on motherhood, your career, retirement or really anything at all (there’s a lot out there!), I might suggest looking for a group that in the least meets these criteria:

  1. It has a diverse membership – in terms of opinion, background, experience, culture, race, orientation, etc.

  2. It is a space that allows for open discussion without judgement, but also includes moderators or members that will check those that cross the line.

  3. It compliments your real life rather than supplants it – e.g. advice is good, but it doesn’t eliminate the need for professionals.

  4. Participating in it makes you feel supported and positive, not defeated and deflated.

Have you found a supportive group on social media? What other advice would you suggest for finding the right group?