Is social media popularity leading to the glorification of neurodiversity?

April 8, 2022
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Samuel Bailey, Social Media Analyst at the Harvey Nash Group, gives his personal reflections on social media representation of neurodiversity. This follows our recent Tech Talks episode on the same subject, to align with Autism Awareness Month.

Discussion around neurodiversity and mental health is fast becoming a key theme amongst social influencers and upon social media channels. But is this popular topic of conversation helping to humanise neurodiversity or glorify it?

In spite of its flaws, the huge growth in popularity of social channels has allowed more people than ever the chance to express themselves, find friends that share their specific interests and educate themselves on topics that were previously inaccessible.

Facebook revolutionised the way we communicate

What started as posts about dinner or a new baby, evolved and now over 10 million groups from hobbies, to identities, support groups and more. Facebook revolutionised the way we communicate and find people similar to ourselves.  

So how does this get us to where we are today? And why could this be seen as a negative? Alongside the ability to explore new topics of discussion, years of popularity has also ushered in an era of ‘trends’.

Some individuals who find communication and in-person conversation difficult are very often associated with the neurodivergent community. Autism, Aspergers and many other types of neurodevelopmental conditions often change the way you communicate or associate with other people. For many online communication can be a much easier and less stressful way to make friends. Moreover, like anyone, online groups and social media make it much easier to find anyone that shares your interests, not limiting you to an area code.

A massive topic of content for TikTokers

What started with Facebook, has since spread to Instagram, and now the biggest social media currently on the App Store, TikTok. What was once a taboo, and often harshly criticised topic, neurodiversity and mental health have become a massive topic of content for TikTokers worldwide.

Although conversation and publication of what was previously a widely feared topic is of course preferred, TikTok culture especially has become wildly adoring of neurodivergence and personality traits associated with it. My concern is that by following a ‘trend’ a post might be insincere, or even seemingly parodic.

This achieves a completely different response as what seemed to be a positive direction for neurodiversity education. Where fears and miseducation around neurodiversity used to fuel ridicule and hate, now the widespread knowledge of neurodiversity has fuelled specific embarrassment for a lot of neurodiverse people.

This is not, however, entirely true. There are a lot of neurodiverse people visible on TikTok and other social media that have created a great support system and provide solace and friendship to like-minded individuals, whilst also providing vital education. Moreover, platforms like LinkedIn do a great job at promoting the correct, valid and supportive education, without the backlash.

A long way to go

There is ultimately a long way to go with social media and neurodiversity. A question of cyber security and guidelines emerges, and this is still known to be mostly biased and needs work in order to influence the correct behaviour on these apps.

However, in general the conversation is happening, and the biggest positive is that neurodiverse people are more visible than ever, and that is mostly to the credit of social media. 

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