Social media has increased the scope of our conversations by mere exposure to the things that are of concern to people in other parts of the world. One of those topics that is gaining popularity is the  issue of mental health. Personally, as a kid up to my early teens, my definition and understanding of mental was very elementary. Having  a mental health problem meant you roamed the streets picking trash or lived an isolated life talking to yourself. Now I definitely know mental health issues are not always that obvious and they manifest in different way with signs that range from mild to severe.

I have read quite enough material from psychologists, psychoanalysts and philosophers to have a decent understanding of human psychology. Enough to know that the wave of self proclaimed psychologist and mental health experts out here playing psychiatrist without the proper training or understanding of mental health issues is something we should be wary of. Some mental health issues have a lot to do with the environments in which we grow up in, more precisely, how they shape our understanding of the workings of the world and our place in it which in turn affects how we think, feel and act. What we have is a reinforcement cycle that makes the way we think, feel  and act today influence the way we will think, feel and act tomorrow.

Social media has become the only source of firsthand information for many Cameroonians especially the younger generations. It is either that or I hear sey.  Many do not have the curiosity for second and third sources for confirmation, partly because the average Cameroonian interacts in circles and communities where conversation is the end; in contrast to milieus and communities where conversation and discourse on social affairs are intended for the formation of pathways to advance society. Simply put, most Cameroonians discuss social affairs in the context of mere commentary and not in the process of decision making as would be the case in countries where such conversations lead to social and political reform.  Which means most conversations on social issues happening on social media are rife with misinformation and uninformed opinions that out of mere virility and outrageousness are being passed for facts. What we are seeing is a false sense of the true state of our society.

We must at this point pay attention to the fact that social media and marketing cannot be separated these days. Social media is also about storytelling and when you think of social media related words like the most sought after ’ENGAGEMENT’ you can begin to see how viral (shock factor) stories tend to dominate the space. What we end up with, is not the average temperature of our society but rather the average temperature of the the shock value stories. Our thinking and feelings towards our society are thus informed by half truths or outright false information which leads to action that is also misinformed.

Enter Facebook marketing and the concepts of leading and joining conversations. I have given some digital marketing courses and one of the things I teach the students is when and how to lead or join conversations. Even traditional marketing uses this concept. We see companies biting trends all the time. We saw it with Orange and “Et Puis qoui?, MTN and “ça “sort comme ça sort,” Source Du Pays with “Tu Va Lire L’heure.” Every one of us has tried to say something and close with “…mais le diable ne fait que….” I just realized I don’t know many English phrases top of mind that were the conversation at some point – “shift m’a faint” maybe or that electric pole at Malingo. Anyways, that was just to explain joining conversations and how businesses use trends to their advantage.

For big businesses, there is more care as they are held to higher standard. For many small businesses especially those whose only source of marketing is digital outlets, there is not much thought put into the matter. We see that in the rampant  pseudo-social responsibility actions that many small businesses in particular are using to raise awareness on their products and get some cheap publicity. We have businesses for which it has become second nature to take advantage of the stories of sufferers to plug their business under the guise of social responsibility. Everyone knows the best place to host a pity party is on social media and for us, the most prominent of all is, Facebook. Whenever a story of someone who is in a dire situation in life goes viral, we have all sorts of influencers and businesses joining the conversation with offers to help.

Just recently, there was a video trending on Facebook; of a girl who got a weave and watch she borrowed from a friend, snatched from her possession; in what was a public disgrace. Very many came out to offer financial help, announcing what they had to give to the girl in a bid to make her feel better about herself. I was in the mix suggesting that what she really needed was counseling. None of us had bothered to wait to find the victim and speak with them so we can know exactly what we could do to help them. Could it possibly be a scripted video? With the girl yet to be identified, it is either everyone already knew exactly what she needed or it was just another pity party social responsibility event. Hardly does anyone take the time to think about what the victim needs. Most only care about what they can give away to tap from the social media attention any one of these stories generates (join the conversation).

It is the viral stories that are shaping the minds of the people. These random, frequent, and fleeting social media viral moments are giving us a false perception of our environment in a way that inhibits our ability to effect change in our environment. That is how we find ourselves in many occasions, putting air in a tire that is leaking. It is the one or two shock value stories on domestic abuse that are being used to form our feeling about marriage and relationships. It is the viral stories that become our statistic and if you have read Daniel Khaneman’sThinking Fast and Slow’ in which he studies the human mind as an interaction between two ‘selves;’ system 1 and system 2 you will understand how we can make decisions based on those false statistics and actually believe those decisions are based on facts because our brains are wired to avoid work and hence will take available information as the only or factual information.

To sum it up, I am basically worried about who is going look out for the mental health of our society? How do we channel reason into the chaos that is social media?

  • Norbert Foy



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