By Ida Ahlmann Østergaard. Recent MSc graduate in Media Studies, University of Aarhus & thesis author of “ Facebook som platform for aftabuisering af psykisk sygdom” (Facebook – platform for breaking taboos on mental illness). With my thesis, Er du EN AF OS? En undersøgelse af Facebook som platform for aftabuisering af psykisk sygdom (Are you ONE OF US*? Research of Facebook as a platform for breaking taboos on mental illness), I have researched how the Facebook page of Danish nation-wide de-tabooing campaign ONE OF US, is perceived and used by people who have liked their page. With my research, I wanted to identify the nuances arising when you want people to talk about a taboo subject, such as mental illness, on Facebook. Do people wish to involve themselves (liking,commenting, and sharing) with content dealing with mental illness on Facebook, when mental illness is already a taboo subject in our offline world? The conclusion of my thesis is that people did not wish to do so, and so, Facebook as a platform for breaking taboos on mental illness is not effective in connection to the Facebook page of ONE OF US/campaign. This could be explained by a variety of reasons.

Facebook is context collapsed

One of the reasons that a Facebook page, such as ONE OF US, does not work effectively as part of a de-tabooing campaign is due to a so-called context collapse. Content collapse happens when different roles and contexts are mixed together. Most people take part in many different social contexts and social relations on Facebook. Therefore, a very complex situation of communication emerges which makes it difficult for Facebook users to choose a form of communication suiting all of their Facebook friends. My research showed that several informants, generally, feel inhibited by lacking an overall view of the many different contexts they are entering on Facebook. For this reason, they rarely engage themselves with content on Facebook. So, this general tendency has a big influence on the informants’ commitment on the facebook page of ONE OF US. ONE OF US would like their users to involve themselves with the content on their Facebook page, however, informants opt out due to the overwhelming situation of communication. Informants are very attentive to what their Facebook friends may think of the content they share, which generally makes informants share only, for instance, joyful life events; content undoubtedly prone to positive response. Should they share content dealing with mental illness, they fear having to defend such content, and finding themselves in an unwanted discussion. Apparently, informants had liked the Facebook page of ONE OF US in order to show their support of the campaign, not in order to engage in its content. Instead, informants would be more inclined to speak about mental illness in a situation offline, being able to interact face-to-face with the recipient and, thus, knowing the context and having an overview of the situation of communication.

Mental illness and online identity

Another reason why Facebook is not working effectively as a platform for breaking taboos on mental illness is the fact Facebook is highly used as a tool for establishing and developing online identities. Therefore, informants are very reflective regarding how they present themselves and alert to which significance their representation bears on their online identity. As it turns out, the majority of informants opt out of engaging with content on Facebook, dealing with mental illness, because they do not want mental illness to be part of their online identity. They do not perceive mental illness to be a particularly big part of their offline identity, and so, it should not be part of their online identity.

Are you ONE OF US?

With my thesis, I also research how informants perceive the community of the Facebook page of ONE OF US. With their campaign, ONE OF US aims to establish a community and create a sense of a ‘unified us.’ One of my sub-conclusions in my thesis argues that this goal has not been met because what is, to a greater extent, established, is a dichotomy between ‘us’ and ‘them’ since several informants do not identify with the content shared by the ONE OF US Facebook page. Despite being impacted by mental illness themselves, or being a relative to someone with a mental illness, several informants do not feel a sense of community on ONE OF US’ Facebook page. I believe this is very unfortunate because you risk creating an even greater divide between us and them.

De-tabooing campaigns on Facebook is a fickle matter

Above-mentioned points testify that it is a challenge to organise a campaign on Facebook dedicated to breaking taboos. However, despite my conclusion, I do not believe that Facebook is an inapplicable tool in connection to de-tabooing campaigns. Facebook appeals broadly, so there is potential to reach quite a few Danes. However, in order to successfully establish a de-tabooing campaign on Facebook, I believe it is necessary to have a number of varied and updated insights into how users actually act on Facebook, along with their motives. This way, the fight on breaking taboos concerning mental illness on a social networking site, such as Facebook, may hopefully be strengthened. In this post, I have chosen to highlight a couple of sub-conclusions from my research. The basis of my overall conclusion includes more sub-conclusions which each contributes to clarify the results of my research. These are available in my thesis (in Danish). The empirical foundation of my thesis includes five individual interviews and a focus group interview. Informants are either people who has got a mental illness, or people who are relative to someone with a mental illness.]]>

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