Not All Online Communities Are Good For You

Came across this post the other day, and it reminded me of something that I probably don’t think about enough. Yes, the Internet is a great place to “meet” other survivors, and to be reminded that we are not alone in being abuse survivors, but with that, there can also be communities that are not safe for us.

Like many teens, Sarah, who shared her experience on condition that she not be identified by her real name, suffered from depression and frequented blogs where she and other teens discussed and documented their depression. They take advantage of the Internet’s power to create communities of like-minded people. But research has also found that the comfort of finding people who understand and validate depressive feelings can backfire.

“(The) Internet is like a dirt road without a sheriff,” said Daniel Bober, an assistant clinical professor at Yale Child Study Center. He said it is common to see blogs about cutting, “how-to” guides about suicide and communities where users engage in or support such behavior.

Sarah eventually found the online communities failed to meet her needs. “I don’t think it helped me completely. It was hard seeing what other people did,” she said. “The behavior was definitely normalized, but these blogs did offer a community of people who understood what I was going through.”

This is a very real problem. For survivors, we also have an additional problem, because people who know about abuse survivors, know how to ingratiate themselves and involve themselves in their lives, and may not always be doing so with good intentions. That’s why you’ll see in many survivor communities, that there are moderators and there are people who end up not being allowed to post. I’ve not approved a few people who’ve requested to join the Google Plus Community I set up, for example, because I looked at their profile and saw things that made me think they were only asking to join to engage in unhealthy activities, or marketing. The safety of the survivors comes first.

When you find yourself in a situation like Sarah’s above, I hope you’ll be able to see what she did, that a community that understands what you’re going through is great, but it should also be one that encourages you to heal, not harm.

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