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Social media, a huge force for good

By Kevin Roberts, Digital Communities Wales Co-ordinator for Wrexham, Flintshire and North Powys

We hear much, and often, about the ‘perils’ of social media. It is the perceived ‘peril’ that quite wrongly dissuades some digitally excluded people from taking on technology and the Internet.

So, here is a sad, heart-breaking but partly uplifting tale of social media at its very best, and at the same time, a reflection of society at its warmest, the best of people.

I lost two friends just before Christmas, wonderful guys that I had known since around the age of 15. Sad? Indeed, but in this case the guys were brothers, both under 60 and the older brother died before his sibling with the younger too ill to even attend his funeral service – he subsequently died shortly after. Unrelated illnesses, leaving their lovely mother at 94 outliving her husband and both sons. How does anyone summon up the strength to cope?

I won’t name my friends because their families are grieving still. Incidentally, the older brother lost his first wife only a year before seeing his young son lose both parents and an uncle in judging over 14 months.

Social media then, how did it figure in this awful situation?

After chatting to my friend’s wife I set up a ‘Whatsapp’ group for people to share banter after we lost the first brother, our dear friend. It was a way for the other brother, terminally ill in hospital, to catch up with people. When he was able, from time to time, he would weigh in with a funny story. More and more people contacted me asking to join in and we eventually had 38 people in the group. Our friend has left us but his wife and daughter, when able, join in and enjoy happy, funny and sometimes hilarious memories. Video messages, photos of days gone by, sports memories…..all kinds of uplifting chatter, via a simple phone app.

People from Australia and New Zealand, Cumbria, Wales…….everyone able to chat together and probably unwittingly ease some of the pain being suffered. My friend spent some of his last few days with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. Some memories shared were beyond belief, but with a ‘no swearing’ rule in place his daughter got a sense of how loved her father was.

Social media. It has brought people together at a traumatic time for our close community. It helped ease pain at a time of loss and heartache, and has helped a family dealt such a cruel hand at such a normally happy time.

It’s not all online bullying, scams and viruses.