Social media and vulnerability

Social media and vulnerability

This post is inspired by a few conversations I’ve had recently on the topic of vulnerability:

  • with @StuartSorensen about his fabulous post where he shared his work motivations arising from personal experiences of vulnerability
  • with Brendan aka @StoryingShef from Storying Sheffield about the importance of honesty and vulnerability in creating a open story-telling culture within organisations
  • with @Ermintrude2 in my last post where she shared the impact of social media on her confidence and wellbeing.

What I was struck by with each of these conversations, was the positive response I had to another person showing vulnerability. It is a way of showing trust and of making a connection. But the risk of showing vulnerability is to experience rejection and dis-connection. What is at stake when you show vulnerability on a public social media platform?

I’m going to be asking lots of different people to share personal experience and, by implication, their vulnerability in my research.  So perhaps I ought to reflect on the impact of social media for me personally. Here goes…

Love/hate – sometimes I love social media and sometimes I hate it. If I feel all is right with my world then it enhances it. But if I’m feeling bad it makes me feel worse. I don’t use social media to get support – I’m not very good at showing vulnerability… even to my friends…

Playing it safe – I know I avoid controversy on social media because I worry about becoming a target of trolls or flamers – how boring. I’m not quite the whole me on Twitter.

Thrills – making new connections gives me a real thrill. I love it.

Regret – sometimes I realise I’ve been showing off and it makes me cringe….

Superficiality – does it all sometimes seem a bit superficial to you? It does to me sometimes. And other times I get quite a profound sense of sustenance from it.

Misunderstandings – very occasionally I have misunderstandings with other tweeps on Twitter – I know what I’m trying to say but I haven’t expressed it very well. I can be hard to sort out in 140 characters and I hate the feeling that others might think I’ve got views that I haven’t.

Pestering – a while ago someone really started pestering me on Twitter. I was surprised how much it bothered me. I stopped tweeting for a while. But fortunately when I told them (privately) they stopped. This experience now makes me cautious.

Maturity – when I first started messing about with social media – how many followers I had, what other people were up to, tweeps not responding to me, people un-following me – it all mattered. I’ve noticed these sorts of things bother me less these days. I think that’s probably about familiarity. But I’m not going to pretend they don’t matter at all.

You could argue that social media gives us the opportunity to present ourselves in a way which we can control, perhaps more so than in our real-world lives. The negative  consequences of showing vulnerability or saying the wrong thing can be amplified hugely. But then what is the expense of not showing vulnerability – does it compromise our ability to make connections and build trust with others?

This YouTube clip is a great if you are interested in the topic of vulnerability in general terms: Brene Brown – The power of vulnerability

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  1. Thanks for sharing this. I would expect a lot of people have similar experiences and it is through sharing these vulnerabilities that we might be able to better reflect on what it is we have in common and what it is that makes us different.
    I’m also aware of the ‘playing it safe’ line. I have a constant awareness that I might need to regulate some of my responses and particular that’s because we don’t know where or how our message may travel and particularly with Twitter – there’s definitely a scope to be misunderstood in short message form.

    Thanks for posting this – I think it’s really interesting and really helpful.

    • Thank you for your comment – there have been quite a few well publicised examples of people posting stuff on Twitter without appreciating the negative consequences. Definitely makes me cautious…

  2. Another interesting post…reasuring too for those of us just exploring widening use of social media. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head re showing vulnerability / creating trust.

    • Thank you Emma – getting the balance online is tricky I think – at least I find it so

  3. Victoria,

    Great post. I have a few thoughts to add.

    When I think about my social media presence, I often see a reflection of my real life in my tweets and blog posts. I feel like I am the digital persona I have online.

    We can easily forget that there are real people connected to the digital avatar on a social network. As a result we may say things we would not say to their face or in front of a big crowd.

    In the time I have been using social media (since late 2007), I have constantly found it fascinating to see those who portray themselves online as a larger then life character are often very quiet in person.

    I can totally relate to your remarks about emotions being a feature of a social media profile. I think you wrote a very unique angle on this.

    Thanks for a great post Victoria!


    Josh Chandler

    • Thank you Josh. I’m interested in your point about creating different personas online. I guess we all choose to enhance certain parts of ourselves in different environments and the same goes for social media. I’m very interested in this aspect of identity and hope I can get to grips with it when I do my research next year 🙂

  4. I used to have ‘ news blackout days’ when I was feeling vulnerable or down, now I have ‘ twitter blackout days’.

    When I was new to twitter, I remember searching various hashtags out of interest, including things like #lonely and a young person had tweeted “is anyone reading my tweets #lonely”. I couldn’t believe the vulnerability they’d shown.

    • Thanks Rob – I like the idea of ‘twitter blackout days’ – I think I need a few more of those 🙂


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