The surprising impact of social media on survivors of meningitis

August 2018

How do you feel about social media?

For many, social media is such a big part of our lives that we rarely consider how we actually feel about it. Stopping to think, you might decide that Facebook makes you feel anxious about your body; that Twitter makes you grumpy; that Instagram makes it look like everyone goes on better holidays than you… Indeed, some research has shown that exposure to Facebook (relative to a control website) resulted in more negative moods for some people.1

These kind of anxieties are perfectly normal, and it’s likely your friends and family will feel the same.
However – what if you had a physical difference that meant you looked different to many people on social media? Would you this make matters worse?

For survivors of meningitis and septicaemia, the illness can have devastating consequences. Septicaemia can lead to amputations anywhere on the body, from the ears down to the toes.

In November 2017, I attended a Social Media Workshop hosted by the Centre for Appearance Research; an academic body dedicated to analysing the way social media impacts those with a visual difference. Through rigorous research, they’re attempting to determine the difference between social media use for those with visual differences, and those without.

Alongside collated research from other institutions, the Centre has conducted many studies of their own and found that scrolling through images of those considered highly visually attractive makes the viewer feel worse about themselves. They experts believe this is true for everyone, not just those with a visual difference. Body dissatisfaction is now so common that it has become a “normative discontent” – i.e, it’s more common (particularly among women) for individuals to be dissatisfied with their appearance than satisfied.

So, if those without a visual difference were unhappy with their appearance due to social media, is it fair to assume that appearance issues would be worse for those with a visual difference?

In March 2018, Apple proposed 13 new emojis designed to represent disabled people.

Research is ongoing and no definitive answers have yet been determined, but early studies may be surprising. It appears to be the case that some young people with a visual difference actually feel more positive towards their appearances as a result of social media – particularly Instagram.

Since 2010, popular photo sharing app Instagram has been known for its “community” ethos. Using hashtags, users are able to easily search for and identify other individuals using the same hashtags as them. For example, searching the hashtag #limbloss brings up over 1000 pictures and videos either featuring or posted by individuals with amputations. Users can then follow each other and easily create for themselves a community of likeminded (and even like-looking) individuals – which can help to increase body-positivity as they realise they are not alone.

At Meningitis Research Foundation, we know that meningitis can result in a variety of after effects – physical and otherwise. There is no such thing as a “typical” meningitis survivor, and we work hard to ensure everyone feels welcome and supported in our work, whatever their visual difference.

If you look around our website and social media accounts, you’ll find that we love to share photos of us and our members out and about. We don’t want anyone to feel alone or “different” when they come to our pages. To help make sure that MRF remains truly a community for everyone, we need your help.

Whether you’re out shaking buckets, running marathons or just proudly living your life after surviving meningitis, we’d love to see your photos and share them on our social media platforms. You can:

1. Fardouly, Jasmine, et al. "Social comparisons on social media: The impact of Facebook on young women's body image concerns and mood." Body Image 13 (2015): 38-45. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2014.12.002 (accessed august 2018)

Pushing the Boundaries
Pushing the Boundaries

Join us for a free support day, designed for families with children aged 0-16 years who have lost limbs due to meningitis and septicaemia.

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About the author

Holly Edwards
Social Media & Digital Communications Officer

Hi, I’m Holly, and I joined MRF in August 2017. I look after the online presence of MRF. I manage the social media channels, and support the activity of the wider comms team by creating digital content – from tweets to videos, and everything in between.

Tel: 0333 405 6255

Other blogs of interest

MRF Evidence and Policy Manager (Prevention), Claire Wright, discusses the pros and cons of making vaccination compulsory in the fight against meningitis and septicaemia
MRF Information and Support Officer, Katherine Carter reports on our latest family day for those affected by meningitis and septicaemia
MRF investigates the impact of social media on meningitis survivors.

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