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Catharsis On Social Media

Everything is connected

Social media has opened up a new way of expression in the 21st century, and sharing a personal story such as battling cancer can be an act of catharsis for an individual whilst raising lots of money for a great cause.

catharsis on social media
Source: BBC.co.uk

A recent example of this is Stephen Sutton, aged 19 who used his Facebook page to document his story of living with bowel cancer. Stephen touched a nation last week when he posted what he thought was his final photo, with a send off. This circulated on the internet, and triggered multiple donations to the charity Teenage Cancer Trust. After going viral, the total now stands at over £3 million, and this is yet another superb example of social media influencing the masses.

Catharsis on the internet stretches beyond personal battles with illness though, and in recent years there is a growing trend in turning to the internet when terrible events occur. A further example was the horrid event in London that saw two men brutally murder another with a machete. The description of the event is bad enough, but how it unfolded on social media made it feel even more disturbing.

The attack was live-tweeted by a bystander, and this is the part where you question what has happened to humanity as a whole. Why do people feel the need to publicise tragedy? All of a sudden this became a liable question in society, and since there have been studies on why people feel the need to ‘retweet’ tragedy.

It is a good question, and it can be linked to TV also. Recent shows such as Breaking Bad and True Detective cause similar feelings of bleakness, with little positive salvation, but we still watch them, but why? Scientific American explored the theories and released a statement:

“We often associate words like ‘fun,’ ‘enjoyment,’ or ‘escape’ when we think about our entertainment.  These are all hedonic, or pleasurable, rewards of watching TV. But the work of Mary Beth Oliver, a professor of media studies at Pennsylvania State University, has shown us that entertainment can offer more than enjoyment. In step with the positive psychology movement, Oliver and her colleagues have identified many eudaimonic rewards of watching depressing, stressful, or even horrific television. Eudaimonia is an experience that meaningfulness, insight, and emotions that put us in touch with our own humanity. Eudaimonia might not make us happy, but it can enrich us, leave us feeling fulfilled, touched, and perhaps even teach us something about ourselves.”

catharsis on social media
Source: twangnation.com

This statement released by American Scientific is in line with why the person recorded that horrific attack in London, and proves that catharsis has made its way onto the internet in a big way. Despite the research into TV and social media, it still remains an unsettling concept that people decide to publicly document moments of great tragedy. Some acts of catharsis can help an individual and a great cause also, and Stephen Sutton’s story is a fantastic example of this. He has accepted his situation and used it to help others, whilst probably using it as comfort in his own mind, but the second example of the individual who recorded the attack in London was just plain wrong. There is no consideration for anyone in that instance, and there are no beneficiaries.

It shifts society into an age where self-help is found online, and potentially in the expense of others. With everything being so ‘social’ and ‘connected’ people feel that part of the self is intertwined with their accounts online, therefore in times of psychological hardship the internet plays a big part in whether they recover or not. Acts of catharsis become a prominent feature because of this, which is inevitable, but there needs to be more consideration for other people when posting online.


Alex is an English Literature and Sociology undergraduate whose love for written word has led him to write about some obscure topics in his time. Currently an intern at Social Media Frontiers, be sure to follow him @AlexSatSMF 

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Catharsis On Social Media Reviewed by Unknown on Tuesday, April 29, 2014 Rating: 5
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