(File pix) The Twitter headquarters in San Francisco, California. Platforms such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram give people the convenience to connect with others without leaving the comfort of their home. AFP Photo

SOCIAL media, when used mindfully, can be a great tool to form genuine friendships with people from all walks of life.

As a millennial who has grown up with social media, I have seen it evolve from the few social-networking sites, such as MySpace and Friendster, to the more sophisticated and multi-functional smartphone apps like Instagram.

Despite all the apps that come to mind when “social media” is mentioned, its function remains the same: it is essentially an online platform that facilitates socialising.

Having been exposed to social media since my teens, I have been unfortunate enough to witness the psychological harm it can inflict on its users, especially teenagers and young adults. Narcissism, ostentation and severe insecurity are just a few of the less commonly highlighted side effects of social media.

I cannot stress just how many women suffer from low self-esteem just from excessively comparing themselves to augmented pictures of other women.

After many years of observing the negative impact social media can have on one’s self-image, I held onto the belief that such a platform cannot possibly cultivate anything remotely genuine or positive. After all, it is overflowing with heavily-edited content intended to paint a picture perfect life that many people want others to believe.

That opinion has altered slightly after I made my Instagram account public two years ago.

Like most people in their 20s, I joined the Instagram bandwagon in university. I decided to make my profile public so that my blog readers could have access to shorter versions of my writings on a more frequent basis rather than waiting ages for me to update my blog. Call it microblogging, if you will.

Since then, my Instagram has drawn all sorts of characters into my life, both online and offline.

While I still firmly believe that for many young people, social media is widely used to display who one dates, what one wears, buys and eats, I am surprised by what an enriching experience it has been, getting to know some of the colourful individuals who have reached out to me online.

Just two weeks ago, after my article on mental health was published, my Instagram was bombarded with people sharing their experiences with depression, even friends whom I had never suspected of having mental health issues.

It is on occasions like these that social media has proven to me that beyond the hashtags and number of likes, people just want to connect with others on common ground. It is an overpoweringly natural inclination to create bonds with others over what is important to them.

Ultimately, people just want their stories to be heard and to discover that there are others on similar journeys as them. Platforms such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram give people the convenience to connect with others without leaving the comforts of their home.

If it wasn’t for social media, I would never have known what fibromyalgia was: a rare and long term condition that causes the sufferer to feel excruciating pain all over his body.

My posts on grief impelled a courageous English teacher from Muar, Johor, to share her arduous struggles with grief and fibromyalgia.

Through this one friendship alone, I now know the personal struggles of another woman, a teacher, a grieving person and fibromyalgia patient.

Unexpectedly, my reflections on grief also grabbed the attention of those who experienced emotional turmoil as a result of losing someone through a breakup or divorce. I was told that they could relate to the pain of loss which I described in detail in my entries.

Prior to my exchanges with them, I would have never concluded that grief could be a result of different types of losses, not just death.

To my pleasant surprise, my frequent postings on religion and spirituality have given me the privilege of having many wonderful discussions with people from other faiths, who told me my posts benefited them in many ways and even helped them to understand Islam better.

I, too, have reached out to people who were strangers, but are now my dear friends. Seven years ago, I emailed a Muslim blogger a few years older than me, about her decision to wear the hijab as I was curious and wanted to know how I could find the courage to do the same eventually.

From that email onwards, we have grown to become good friends and I turn to her for guidance and support during times of low morale.

Looking back, I still find it remarkable how a long-term friendship all started with an email.

Like anything in life, social media is what you make of it. When used intentionally for a good cause, you will be surprised with just how much value it can add to your life and the lives of others.

Social media doesn’t have to be a platform for superficialities; it can be a means to spread goodwill, seek inspiration and help others.

RAJA SARINA ISKANDAR is a freelance writer, a blogger at www.dearsarina.com and is currently studying Arabic. She is a millenial trying to make a difference, starting with herself

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