Learning from the perils of social media

Features

Chloe Moyles and David Hughes have personal experience of the pitfalls of social media

Edwin McGreal

In different ways Chloe Moyles and David Hughes know how damaging social media can be.
Chloe was the victim of bullying both online and at school while David felt he became detached from reality online after being bullied at school.
Both are members of the Mindspace Mayo Youth Panel and they tell their stories so that others may learn from their experience and be more aware of how social media can be a dark place at times.
Chloe, from Crossmolina, had to change secondary schools because of bullying, which was both at school and, more particularly, online.
“Some people say what they want behind a keyboard, they don’t really care because they are not saying it to your face,” Chloe told The Mayo News.
“Posting all these horrible comments under pictures of me smiling because they want to take that positivity away, they want to be negative and project their own negativity out onto someone else and they do it on a platform where they cannot see the reaction it is having on somebody else, they cannot see the negative impact it is having on somebody else’s life,” said Chloe, a 19-year-old student in the University of Limerick.
“Towards the end the bullying was definitely much more online because I didn’t go into school, I was at home most of the time so pretty much anytime I opened the phone there was a horrible message from an account and I didn’t know who it was.”
The online comments were, quite often, from anonymous accounts and while Chloe should not feel in any way responsible, she said she did learn about the importance of limiting who can see your social media profiles.  
“A precaution to that would be trying to protect your stuff, only letting your close friends into your circle with all your pictures and your thoughts and what you wanna say.
“I think when you open that door and you let other people follow you where you don’t have a private account, you are opening a whole other world like who is this person, why are they saying these horrible things to me, do I know them? If you don’t let them in in the first place, they cannot do any harm,” she advised.

Comparisons
David Hughes from Kilmaine was verbally bullied at school. He recalls falling back on social media ‘almost as a helping mechanism’.
However, he found himself comparing himself unfavourably to others online and feeling inadequate which, when combined with his experiences of bullying, created lots of problems, and he found Instagram particularly challenging.
“I was bullied most of secondary school and I was looking at pictures of myself when I was younger and thinking maybe they were bullying me because of the way I look and then looking at social media and thinking they look great and that I want to be like that,” he explained.
“For me personally the one I would find most damaging would be Instagram. You’re looking at different people and you would be looking at someone and saying ‘oh, six pack, brilliant face, brilliant body’. You don’t really see a picture where someone doesn’t look good in it.”
David set off on a journey aiming to look like some picture perfect people on Instagram. It took a lot out of him.
“When I was 14 I would have started a lot of running and I’d feel great after it but later I’d be relaxing and looking through my phone and saying ‘I’m still not there yet’, when I’d look at a certain picture.
“I went through four or five years suffering with anxiety and depression. For over a year and a bit I’d get up in the morning and I wouldn’t have anything to eat for five hours straight and I’d be running over an hour and doing different kinds of exercise every single day and it got to the point that I was eating so little I had to go to the doctor and they said I was lucky to be alive really.
“That’s the side of social media – you can use it as a positive at the start but the more you use it, the switch can flip so easily.”
David is a student of Sport Science in Athlone IT and also a trainer with The Movement, Andy Moran’s gyms in Mayo.
He got to the stage with Instagram where he realised it was time to take back control. He deleted Instagram off his phone and realised a lot of what he was looking at was unrealistic and was likely filtered and photoshopped to the last.
“After coming off it for a while I started to think ‘do you know what, everyone is their own person and I’m happy the way I am’ and then when I went back on Instagram again, the odd time you might get drawn once or twice into that rabbit hole but because you’ve learned from past experiences that’s them, this is me. A lot of it is not real on Instagram and that’s what people have to be aware of too.”
Like the famous Marilyn Munroe quote, David has found that wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.

Link between time online and severe anxiety and depression
Adolescents who spent more than three hours online per day were more likely to be in the ‘very severe’ category for both depression and anxiety.
According to the My World Survey 2, seven percent of respondents who reported spending less than two hours a day online reported having severe depression. Seven percent of those who spent two to three hours per day online also reported having severe depression. However, this figure jumped among those who spent more than three hours online with 12 percent of those reporting having severe depression.
When it comes to anxiety, 12 percent of those who reported less than two hours per day online and 12 percent of those who reported spending two to three hours per day online reported having severe anxiety.
Again, among respondents who spent three hours or more online, this percentage jumped, to 19 percent in this instance.
The My World Survey 2 was the National Study of Youth Mental Health in Ireland, a survey of 19,000 second and third level Irish students conducted in 2019.