One of my Facebook friends appears to be spiralling out of control. She’s going through a divorce, hates her job and her status updates roll in like dark clouds.
If she were a “real life” friend, I’d be around at her house washing her dishes, filling her fridge with vegies and homemade meals and encouraging her to go to her GP for a mental health plan.
But we’re not “real life” friends. Like many of my Facebook friends, I haven’t uttered a single word to her since high school – that was 20 years ago – and even then we weren’t that close. Who am I to stage a cyber-intervention or give advice? What is the social etiquette of offering assistance to people you communicate with only via the “Like” button?
It’s also hard to tell whether hers are genuine cries for help or whether my “friend” achieves some kind of cathartic release through the poetry of melancholic status updates. After all, there is a large performative element to social media. For some the mere expression of dark sentiments is therapy enough; having them acknowledged in a Facebook feed is a form of recognition.
Nevertheless, counsellor and author Elly Taylor says that people who send cries for help via Facebook tend to have problematic and broken relationships.
“They may have the desire to connect but not always the ability to do so,” she says.