Social media icons.
Oh, Harry. You and your wife are three days and three posts into a new “social media strategy” and already you’ve put your royal foot in it. On Tuesday you launched the @sussexroyal Instagram account. Then on Thursday you slated social media for being “more dangerous” than drugs and alcohol, because of its addictive qualities.
I know you were primarily taking issue with the cultural phenomenon that is Fortnite, and – though I can’t say I’ve ever played the video game – I understand your well-intentioned words were rooted in genuine concern for the mental health of at least one generation. Your Heads Together campaign is commendable. You and Meghan use your platform to address and raise awareness of issues that are not only close to my heart, but essential for ensuring a brighter future for all creatures, both human and animal.
But this time, Harry, you’re wrong. Firstly, Instagram is social media. In fact, with its more than 1 billion active monthly users, it’s one of the largest platforms of the whole herd. It’s got double Twitter’s users. To echo your alcohol and drugs narrative, you launched a new brand of vodka on Tuesday, which millions of people started drinking almost instantly. On Thursday you told us it might well kill us.
Semantics aside, consider for just one moment the alternative use of Facebook and co. I’ve read the research – even written about it – and I wholeheartedly believe the studies: social media can cause and exacerbate depression and anxiety, it can lead to crippling self-doubt, promote toxic beauty ideals and, yes, it can be as addictive as a class A drug. But as someone who suffered with depression for years, I know that there’s another side to the story.
Social media sites are, at their very core, networks. They can help connect people when getting up and leaving the house feels about as achievable as scaling Everest unaided. Company can be one of the most effective treatments for a mental health problem and while, at least for me, the benefits of virtual interactions will never eclipse those of human contact, we shouldn’t discredit their power completely.
When I gave birth to my daughter last May, I hadn’t taken mood-stabilising pills for years, but that didn’t stop me from going to some dark places in those early, teary days of motherhood. I always thought of myself as a social media sceptic, but through the night feeds, as the tiny, slumbering, creature suckled away for what felt like hours, it was delightful escapology.
For just a few moments, it stopped me remembering how unfathomably exhausted I was or that I hadn’t washed my hair in days. As respite, it was the next best thing to sleep. Just a little, it reconnected me with the people who I hadn’t seen in months. It reminded me that there was a life before sterilising bottles, 3 am nappy changes and worrying about unusual rashes. Crucially, it reassured me that there was certainly a life after all that too.
Later, I met some of the most supportive, like-minded mothers on social media apps. In real life, we drank copious amounts of coffee and not quite as copious amounts of wine, while counselling each other through the perplexities of parenthood. Having a baby can be achingly isolating and deeply lonely, especially when you’re accustomed to the pace of a busy career and social life. As you sit on the couch all alone, house-bound, covered in bodily fluids and on the verge of losing your mind, it gives you the gift of community.
Finally, Harry, as you and Meghan seemed to acknowledge on Tuesday, social media is a cornerstone of modern culture that’s here to stay. It can be detrimental, but we have no choice other than to learn to use it responsibly and teach future generations to do the same. There’s no point demonising it or wishing it away. Incidentally, I feel the same way about alcohol, drugs and even video games.
You’re a modern man, in tune with the pressures and pitfalls of this world. You’re conscientious and compassionate, and on top of your state duties, you’re a loving husband and a soon-to-be father. You should really know that there are some things you just can’t change, and social media’s influence is one of them. I wonder what your 3.5 million followers would think.
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