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Social Media: A double edged sword for survivors of intimate partner violence

In today’s world it’s never been easier to connect with others and share your life experiences. Social media has deeply ingrained itself into our everyday lives: improving our ability to keep up with loved ones, make new connections, and stay up to date on global current events. For most people, engaging with social media is generally perceived as a positive experience, however for individuals who are experiencing or have survived Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), social media can have unique costs and risks.

Reminders of the Past

Social media accounts can function as a collection of our favorite memories. Unfortunately, for survivors of IPV, they can also function as a timeline of some of the most difficult times in their lives. With the advent of social media features such as Facebook’s “Memories”, a feature that reminds users of their old social media posts, survivors may find themselves being unexpectedly re-exposed to triggering content. A study by Dr. Nicolette Little at the University of Alberta recently explored this phenomenon by investigating the impacts of Facebook’s “Memories” feature on survivors of IPV. The study found that unexpected re-exposure to their abuser did in fact have a triggering effect. Dr. Little reported that survivors experienced symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and feelings of a loss of control which ultimately complicated their ability to heal and move on.

Provides Access to Victims and Increases Risks of Further Abuse

Due to the ease of accessibility and audience reach of social media, it has quickly become the top method for people to share their stories and experience. For survivors of IPV, who routinely experience a loss of autonomy and control in their lives, sharing their story on social media can be a strategy to once again feel empowered and regain control. Some survivors also undertake this exercise in hopes of increasing awareness about intimate partner violence and supporting other survivors. Unfortunately, this sharing can also come with risks. As explained by Yelena Dzhanova for Insider, abusers who are called out publicly might choose to retaliate and a survivor’s social media activity can enable abusers to easily track and exploit knowledge of a victim’s whereabouts.

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The Impact of Public Commentary

Social media serves not only as a way to share one’s story, but also as a forum where people can freely voice their opinions. When cases of IPV make their way onto social media, it can inadvertently become home to what’s commonly known as “victim-blaming”. In the context of intimate partner violence: “Victim-blaming suggests that a survivor has either provoked an assault or that they did not do enough to stop it” (The Reporter, 2022). Exposure to social media commentary that questions, blames, and trivializes the claims of survivors can negatively impact people experiencing abuse. They may start to blame themselves for the abuse they are experiencing and thus be dissuaded from confiding in someone or attempting to leave their abuser. Survivors of IPV can also experience negative effects such as re-traumatization and the internalization of self-blame which can manifest through symptoms of anxiety or depression.

In Closing

Social media is a complex universe, even more so for survivors of IPV. Research on the intersection of IPV and social media struggles to keep pace with the rapid on-going development of social media platforms and the ways in which they impact how humans interact. Despite these challenges, with the information currently available we can clearly see the unique impacts social media can have on individuals who are experiencing or have survived IPV. It is our hope that raising awareness about these experiences will impact future social media development and encourage users to think more deeply about their social media engagement.

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