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#ItsOkayToTalk: Using Social Media for Good

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You may or may not have noticed lately that a whole bunch of men have started posting pictures of themselves posing with the universally-recognised “okay” hand gesture on their social media accounts. The images are accompanied with the hashtag: #ItsOkayToTalk and are tagged with five friends, encouraging them to recreate the post and therefore continue spreading the word.

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The campaign was established by professional rugby player Luke Ambler after his brother-in-law Andy Roberts took his own life. Devastated by the event, the 26-year-old Brit launched ‘Andy’s Man Club’: a space for men in crisis to gather together and say what’s on their mind with the reassurance that it’s okay to talk about issues that have long been stigmatised. As the club grew, Luke came up with the idea of branching out to social media. Now, what started off as a conversation in a coffee shop has swiftly rocketed into a global sensation garnering support from influential celebrities, Olympians and comedians.

And it all comes down to the power of social media.

Social media harnesses a kind of influence the world hasn’t seen before

The power of social media has well and truly woven itself within today’s cultural tapestry. Almost everyone you know has a digital presence – whether that’s on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other platform amongst the multitude of online channels available. Society now has a voice like never before, and its members have a global stage to make their mark upon, so why not use it for good?

Remember the hashtag: #IllRideWithYou, sparked by the Sydney Lindt siege in 2014? In a climate of uncertainty, social media had the power to remind citizens of the importance of kindness and compassion over fear-mongering and finger-pointing. Following a terror attack on a café, Aussies used the hashtag to create a close-knit community and combat segregation and racial discrimination during a time where unity was needed most.

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Image: BBC News

Other cases where social media proved a powerful tool include the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge a few years ago, where everyday people were encouraged to record a video of themselves dumping a bucket of ice over their heads before posting it to Facebook and tagging a select number of friends in it. The idea was that every Ice Bucket challenger would promote awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (otherwise known as ALS) and encourage donations to research organisations. Within less than a month of the campaign going viral, the ALS Association had reportedly received a whopping $41.8 million from more than 739,000 new donors, with other affiliate organisations reaping in additional funding. Clearly, the campaign was hugely successful.

…However, for a social media campaign to be truly successful, you need to take a considered approach

While the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge certainly achieved great things for disease research, it did cop its fair share of criticism. People deemed the campaign “self-congratulatory”; arguing that it shifted the focus from the issue at hand and instead, fed society’s narcissistic tendencies to get themselves noticed in the digital sphere. Other campaigns have also suffered for similar reasons: the #NoMakeupSelfie that circulated the internet in 2014 was harshly criticised for totally missing the point of raising awareness for cancer and instead, triggering a trend of ‘vanity charity’. After all, what do selfies really have to do with cancer? Is it really considered ‘brave’ to photograph yourself without make-up when compared to the everyday realities faced by cancer patients?

While the campaign did manage to generate donations, the numbers paled in comparison to what the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge managed to stir. In fact, thousands of women who participated in the #NoMakeupSelfie campaign failed to even mention the word “cancer” in their posts, while those who did decide to donate money were so misinformed that they ended up giving to other research organisations that had nothing to do with cancer.

So, what makes a successful social media campaign?

At the forefront, relevancy is key. The #NoMakeupSelfie campaign harboured this niggly underlying ideology that women were simply seeking affirmation from their friends (cue: “BABE! you don’t need make-up! You’re beautiful!”), whereas #ItsOkayToTalk is a lot more grounded in substance. Yes, it’s still a selfie, but the hand gesture is a casual yet highly relevant sign that men all around the world can relate to. At the end of the day, imagery is a very powerful content tool – we’ve seen social media quickly transgress from text to photos to videos – and by putting a familiar face on a campaign, such as that of your best mate or your work colleague, it’s illustrating the vulnerability of everyday men.

Essentially, it’s about breaking down those social barriers that dictate males should hide their feelings and instead, replacing them with a much-needed reminder that mental health is a common issue that should be openly discussed.

But is the #ItsOkayToTalk campaign working?

So far, yes. Since the campaign launched about a week ago, Luke has received emails from several men telling him that the movement has helped them get through some pretty dark times. One man even accredited the campaign to saving his life. As the hashtag keeps sweeping around the globe, there is a credible sense of hope that it continues to drive those who are in despair to seek help and essentially, work towards achieving Luke’s aim “to reduce the statistic of male suicide by half in five years”.

If that can be accomplished, we know that social media – when used sensibly – can offer great things for humanity.

 

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By Patricia O'Loughlin


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