By Marcia Forbes
Pleazzzzeeee Like Me on Facebook and Follow Me on Twitter – Social Media and Psycho-Social Health
They said it was their best conference ever. This was music to the ears of Jamaicans, in particular the four who comprised the Local Organizing Committee as well as the local Logistics Team.
Recently the Fulbright Academy hosted their annual conference in Montego Bay, under the theme – Global Health. Keynote speakers included Dr Ruth Westheimer, renown sex therapist, media personality and author extraordinaire with over 30 books to her credit and retired NBA shot-blocker and humanitarian, Dikembe Mutombo, acclaimed not only for basketball prowess but for fulfilling his dream of building a hospital in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, his homeland.
The following are excerpts from my panel presentation under the topic Public Health and the Impact of Technology & Social Media.
The Internet as Site of Refuge
Despite low Internet penetration levels and inadequate access, inner-city youths in Jamaica largely see the Internet as a social good and able to improve their psycho-social health. From the total of 108 respondents, 101 of them (94 percent) were entirely positive about the Internet.
The extent to which inner-city girls turned to the Internet as a source of refuge was somewhat surprising, 30 percent of them reported this, compared to 14 percent of boys. These girls were therefore two times more likely than boys to express emotional ties with the net.
A Love Affair – Girls
“The Internet mean a lot to me, without the Internet I can’t survive. It’s my life.”
“The net is a new world for me that allows me to escape my problems and just talk and hang with friends.”
“If I don’t have it I would feel different, alone, left out.”
“The Internet is the part of the computer I love the most.”
But then, perhaps, I should not be so surprised since in Music, Media & Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica many inner-city girls spoke in similar ways about music videos and how they used them to escape the harsh realities of ghetto life. It seems then that Facebook is now replacing some of the roles formerly played by television and music videos.
When many of these inner-city youths talk about the Internet, it is really Facebook of which they speak. This social network is what largely commands their real attention. So, let me look specifically at responses as they relate to Facebook.
Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of 342 Jamaicans in the youth online survey said being on Facebook was their #1 online activity.
“I’m a Facebook girl so most of my time is on Facebook”
Among rural-based girls, 20 percent of them specially mentioned Facebook in their responses to what the Internet meant to them, with half of them saying they were addicted to Facebook.
“I mostly use the internet on my phone and as I get on the phone it is like some spell or addiction. I just get straight to Facebook.”
Issues Relating to Facebook & Psycho-social Health
Girls and boys in rural areas spoke about the social exclusion they felt from not having access to Facebook. These youths in deep rural Jamaica were not only physically distanced from the island’s capital cities and many towns, but were further distanced by way of the digital divide. It negatively affected their self-esteem.
“Like say, if you nuh deh pon facebook, you no have no sense, or dem suppen deh” (If you are not on Facebook you are regarded as not having any sense or discriminated against in other ways.)
Rural participants, both males and females, lobbied hard for Internet access as a basic human right. Youths feel deprived and as if they are missing out when not on Facebook.
Identities – Boys and girls from different socio-economic strata in Jamaica confess to being “loud on Facebook”; To shielding themselves from prying eyes by hiding behind the computer/cell phone screen and playing out various aspects of their identities, especially sexual identity.
Privacy – Sex and sexuality are important to youths. Facebook place these issues in the public domain with near-permanence of online postings. This can have adverse effects as youths move into adulthood and mature beyond their juvenile postings. What potential employers see online can damage youth’s chances for employment.
Cyberbullying and cyberstalking can be real and, as participants and guidance counsellors reported, often move from online to offline and vice versa with threats of physical violence.
Friendships – Increasingly Facebook is being used as a first step toward friendship formation and dating. Potential friends or partners are first screened via this social network. If they measure up relationships move from online to offline.
Technologies, especially social networks but also mobile phones, have accelerated not only wide but often also deep “friendship” connections. Giving and sharing are now possible at multiple levels.
Girls Quarrel, Boys Flirt
Among inner city residents, girls mostly quarrel on Facebook while boys flirt. Discussions with guidance counsellors highlighted this phenomenon. This was corroborated by both boys and girls. And it mostly all revolved around issues relating to sex and sexuality.
“This girl she commented on a picture with me and my boyfriend saying him no look good.”
Facebook is a very visual medium. Pictures hold centre stage for attention and girls compete aggressively for this.
Inner city boys take another aspect of Jamaican culture to Facebook – that of hunting for white women to sponsor them to live overseas. This survival strategy has migrated from off to online. Facebook allows boys to ‘show and tell’ their way into financial support, aided by webcams to display their strongest assets – their bodies.
These boys hold to the Mandingo Myth! – Of black men as sex slaves for white women. So we
see that males, like female, compete for online attention. Everyone wants to look good.
Plastic Surgery for Social Media
Research findings from the American Academy of Facial & Reconstructive Surgery point to a 31 percent increase in plastic surgery requests as a result of people wanting to present a better look via social media.
Image-based social media sites are increasing in number and popularity:
Mobile, Social Lifestyles & Need for Digital Literacy
A mobile, social lifestyle buoyed by advances in various online technologies, even among digitally deprived youths, is becoming as real and as important as life offline.
A 2012 research project by McAfee revealed that 67 percent of Australian tweens (ages 8 – 12) used social media. McAfee noted that online behaviours become entrenched in the tween years. This month, May 2013, PEW research reveals that teens are sharing more online – 53 percent posted their email address. Findings like these point to the urgent need for proactive education.
Digital literary, social networking literacy, managing your brand online are areas that all of us need to give special attention. The role of parents and teachers in this is crucial. Social media can be full of ‘drama’, the term teens use to describe life on Facebook (PEW, 2013). It does not need to be this way if we make it our business to educate ourselves and others about some of the consequences of our mobile, social lifestyles.
Dr Marcia Forbes, a Caribbean Journal contributor, is a media specialist, the co-owner of multimedia production company Phase 3 Productions Ltd and former Permanent Secretary in Jamaica’s Ministry of Mining and Telecommunications and later the Ministry of Energy and Mining. She is the author of Music, Media & Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica and the recently-released Streaming: Social Media, Mobile Lifestyles.
Follow Dr Marcia Forbes on Twitter: @marciaforbes