I had a great view of what commuters do while standing on the bus this morning. I noticed that as usual, they were all hunched over on their phones. Normally, I avoid eye contact and just listen to my music, but today I decided to look more closely at exactly what they were doing. While trying to hold on for dear life, I observed some people texting or reading e-mails, but most were scrolling through their social media feeds.
According to the Pew Research Center, 65% of adults now use social networking sites, which is nearly a tenfold jump from 2005 to 2015. The reports also note how social media has impacted how we get and share information from anything from breaking news, funny videos, relationship advice, and more importantly, public health. The Huffington Post reported that although social media can be helpful in promoting awareness on health issues, it could also be detrimental. Virtually anyone shares information on the internet without any credentials or knowledge of the subject. No matter how many times I tell myself, “Don’t believe what the internet tells you,” I always find myself falling into the trap. I get so mesmerized by graphics and videos that I start to believe anything I see or read on social media. To test this idea, I decided to go on some social media sites and see what I could find on substance abuse. Substance abuse continues to impact our community, so I wondered what social media platforms had to say about it.
First, I started with Instagram. I searched for #substanceabuse, and interestingly enough I found mainly inspirational quotes about recovery. I also found ads for rehab centers mainly claiming they have all the answers to sobriety. I was skeptical about these ads in particular and the “advice” they had to offer on Instagram. Should I believe what they say just because they have a pretty picture of the beach or the sky? I think not.
Next, I searched Pinterest. I personally associate Pinterest with wedding and party planning so I was shocked when I searched “Substance Abuse” and a ton of pins popped up. The pins ranged from worksheets, science, and quotes to info graphics. Some pins were from counselors, or even rehab centers across the country. Many even cited sources such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse. However, if I were to use some of these resources in my own work, I would be mindful of what sources the information is coming from.
The last platform I explored was Facebook. In my feed, I typed “Substance Abuse” to see what would pop up from my friends and subscribed groups. One of my FB friends, a Fordham GSS Alumna who is doing incredible work with her nonprofit agency S.A.F.E. in Harlem, immediately popped up. Her feed was mainly photos of the youth she works with, which was a reminder to me that this work is especially critical for our young people but also necessary in my community. Most importantly, the fact that she has her MSW, CASAC-T, and her own nonprofit, was a total game changer for me. I will definitely believe anything I read on substance abuse on her feed based on her credentials.
I should also note that these platforms tend to produce different results based on what search term or # I put in. For example, on Instagram, #substanceabuse yielded 17,314 posts while #addiction yielded over 3 million posts. The latter # also showed results that were not necessarily related to substance abuse or addiction, but actually people using #addiction for things like food, shoes, working out, and even that Pokemon Go game everyone is talking about.
Given these results, I would say that on one hand social media could be a useful tool in staying abreast of important issues in substance abuse, but it should not be your only source. I strongly believe building a strong foundation of knowledge on the subject would be ideal. In Spring 2017 I will be teaching in the CASAC program at Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service. For applicants with a MSW, you can obtain your CASAC-T Certificate with just 85 hours of coursework. If you are really interested in substance abuse and perhaps even working in this field, I encourage you to consider a CASAC-T so you may be more informed when scrolling through your feed and news stories. Who knows? You may even be able to post more confidently on the subject down the road!
Alby Tello, MSW, LCSW Director of Career Development Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service 113 West 60th Street New York, NY 10023 firstname.lastname@example.org