Syrians’ online support groups: A space for sensitive personal stories on social media
Enab Baladi – Nour Mouazen
From behind the screens of smart devices, social media people ask private and personal questions in chat groups, waiting for answers and responses to situations they have lived or are currently experiencing from the members of these groups. Such groups have over tens of thousands of individuals.
It is natural for a person to share what is happening to him on these groups, which are called support groups, but what is surprising, and according to what Enab Baladi monitored, is the nature of the questions that go deep into personal life, and the description of events and social relationships with accuracy that may reach an extent that some consider indecent and transgressive to customs and traditions.
Through posts in the form of messages or video recordings, people have taken these groups as a safe place to talk about feelings, ideas, secrets of relationships, and concerns and to raise problems.
The goal is to seek advice from the audience, which answers some of it, while a portion of the audience turns the post’s author into a subject for ridicule, bullying, and even attack, criticizing the nature of the content presented.
Although the majority of those seeking advice go to anonymity, trying to maintain some privacy, the content of the consultations often reveals family secrets and details, which opens the door to questions about the reasons why people resort to raising these topics and issues in front of tens of thousands, and the impact that the responses, comments, and answers leave, whether it was on point, or critical of the person who wrote the post and his behavior.
According to Enab Baladi’s monitoring, one of the users narrates in his post his problem with his wife and asks for a solution from an imaginary community unknown to him, and whose intellectual, cultural, or social level is unknown, while another explains his confusion, asking about how he deals with his girlfriend, asking the group members for advice or just sympathy.
The posts are not devoid of fathers and mothers asking about how to deal with their children in specific situations, and also questions from children about how to deal with their parents, such as one of the sons complaining about his father’s “lack of cleanliness in the house and his neglect.”
There are many posts in which people raise their personal problems, such as the mechanism of acquaintance between both parties, boys and girls, or the mechanism of dealing in some cases, or a complaint about a misunderstanding or shortcoming, or even searching for a way to take emotional revenge.
One participant asked a question about a fateful decision related to her future. She got married at a young age, and there is no understanding in her relationship with her husband, while another person shares with her talk about his relationships with women he knows.
In her post, the married woman is waiting for advice from the public. Some comments include advice for divorce and separation and others for endurance and patience. Another piece of advice is to leave the children with the father and search for her “lost life.”
Social environment plays largest role
Regarding the reasons why a person resorts to raising his own problem on social networking sites, Dr. Safwan Qassam, Ph.D. in Social Psychology, believes that it may be related to the person’s attempt to express what is going on in his mind due to the lack of courage to say it to the physical environment, and perhaps it is a state of despair after which the person goes to seek support of those he doesn’t know.
The psychologist told Enab Baladi that the reasons are sometimes related to a person’s shyness about his problem and his reluctance to present it to those around him or the lack of trust between him and his surroundings to share his problem with them, as he prefers to present it to a virtual community rather than confront specialists or the relevant people themselves with it.
For her part, social researcher Aisha Abdul-Malik considered that the motive is the fear of scandal or shame, as the fear of revealing the insides of some people leads them to resort to fake places, such as virtual platforms that give them complete freedom to present their own ideas and problems without restrictions, especially after the emergence of the publishing anonymously on these social platforms.
Abdul-Malik believes that the reasons why some people resort to searching for solutions from a virtual community, regardless of whether the solution suits the person or his circumstances or not, is that people search for quick and ready-made solutions without putting in much effort, and sometimes it stems from a lack of resourcefulness or awareness.
The founder of the “Albi Albak” or “My Heart is Your Heart” group on Facebook, which includes posts similar to those mentioned previously, Dina Abu al-Hassan, said that the idea of creating the group came as a reaction to situations related to young people who ended their lives for psychological reasons, and she tried through the group to secure a safe space that might provide assistance and extend a helping hand, even to a single person.
Abu al-Hassan told Enab Baladi that in some cases, she offers assistance to people who she believes are in urgent need of psychological counseling and refers them before agreeing to publish the question to specialists and psychiatrists with whom she cooperates, pointing out that she feels responsible for every case.
She believes that not everything in life has solutions, whether on Facebook or in real life, and there are problems larger than anyone’s ability to solve, and some people know this in advance, but they do not hesitate to post their questions to the group just to seek psychological support and the sympathy that others feel for them.
Social media expert Lilas Dakhlallah said that “virtual chat” spaces are a double-edged sword, and it is good to learn about the experiences of others, but in return, awareness must be present among both the presenter and the recipient.
Using websites and the Internet in general requires awareness of presenting and receiving ideas.
Lack of awareness leaves a negative impact on the browser and sometimes on the person offering advice and its reader, according to Dakhlallahl.
The expert told Enab Baladi that the problem is that the reader owns a small part of the story presented, and based on it, his point of view or his advice to the person who had the experience, and therefore, the judgment he presents to people is based on an incomplete picture of the story, and therefore the story cannot be evaluated based on only part of the picture.
In her turn, Abdul-Malik believes that awareness among the proposer and reader is important in these proposals, while she emphasized that marital, social, and psychological problems require intervention from specialists and not comments and advice from the general public.
Between two fires, Numbing the pain without treating it
Reading the comments on the posts shows the extent of the contradiction and difference between them, which perhaps leaves the post’s owner confused while hardly a post is devoid of insults and harsh criticism, and they are in varying proportions, as the matter does not apply to all the groups and publications monitored by Enab Baladi.
Dr. Safwan Qassam said that those with problems or inquiries, after publishing their story, face two results or effects. The first is that the commentators leave useful answers that have a positive impact on those concerned, and the second is that they leave negative or bad answers and comments, which increases the tension or confusion of the owners of the post.
The psychologist added that the answers are often mixed between positive and negative, and the person concerned falls between two fires, and the impact that the result will have is due to the personality of the person asking the question and the extent of his ability to accept criticism or negative opinion.
In general, Qassam considers the “virtual support” platforms to be relatively comfortable because the person who resorts to them feels that he is expressing himself in front of the entire society and feels that he is visiting a psychotherapist to express his feelings to him.
Dr. Qassam believes that these groups are a form of psychological relief available in our time and that “the problem lies with people who are not prepared for the consequences of this action.”
Because of the fast-paced life we live today, researcher Qassam believes that with everyone being busy with each other and the decline of real-life gatherings of friends to relieve worries, it has become necessary to use social media and virtual friends to express feelings and share moments.
Qassam’s point of view does not differ from that of social media researcher Lilas Dakhlallah, who believes that the impact that can be reflected on an individual’s personality and behavior is both positive and negative, and this can affect the strengthening of the person’s absence from the real existing environment.
Dakhlallah believes that the owners of publications who seek opinion and advice resort to the virtual world and thus distance themselves from the real society surrounding them, such as distance from real friendship, real marital relationships, or real family relationships, pointing out that it is a widely spread social phenomenon, and that most people are now resorting to what is behind the screen, and they abandon reality because they find greater sympathy, she added.
The social media researcher pointed out the possibility that the proposal or even the reality of the solutions may not be realistic, as they “numb the pain and do not solve it.” These proposals may exacerbate the problem and cannot be classified as real solutions.
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