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CEO of The Mix on using social media responsibly

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The Mix is a primarily digital, multi-channel advice service for young people under the age of 25. Support is offered through online discussion boards, group chats, a phone line and the recently established crisis messenger text service. 

CEO of The Mix, Chris Martin, describes it as “a multi-channel advice service that covers everything that goes on in a young person’s life.” Aware of the fact that he is not using the service for advice himself, he turns to the young people who are central to The Mix’s identity to explain its purpose. A young person once described the site as “the place that they went when they had no-one else to talk to’, which Martin holds as the best description of it.

Chris Martin CEO of The Mix // Image Courtesy of Chris Martin

Starting out in a digital age...

The Mix formed back in 2016, merging two charities together. They initially reached “1.6 million” young people and are now reaching “3 million, and that’s from just letting people know who and where we are, increasing the content on the site that young people will be interested in.”

In the digital age, Martin knew that turning to the internet was the best way to reach and offer advice to as many young people as possible. Being a digital service is what Martin believes makes The Mix so powerful. He says that young people’s worlds are a “bit of an apple”, revolving around technology - “when you’re looking for support around something you’re quite often sitting in your bedroom, and the first place you reach out to is digital, then friends and family around you, and then somewhere that’s perhaps a bus-drive away. So actually a young person’s world can be quite small”. Online advice allows a young person to seek advice outside of their ‘bubble’, without physically having to step out of it.

Online charities and resources like The Mix are more important than ever; support is available at the touch of a finger, wherever and whenever you need it. Martin tells us that the majority of the interaction from the online community on The Mix is after office hours: “after five in the evening, right up til 3am and all through the night. If you look at our crisis helpline or our text service, our peak hours are 8pm till one in the morning, and they’re the hours where you can’t get any other kind of support.”

What can The Mix help with?

On The Mix, young people can find articles advising on anything and everything – from Brexit-related anxieties to dealing with Transphobia. Martin champions this variety – such articles can help a young person to navigate through any problems they may be facing, or even just answering those awkward questions that nobody wants to ask. He chuckles and tells us about the time where they had a post from “a young man asking how to keep his willy clean, which is not going to be a question that you’re asking anybody normally.”

It is vital that the plethora of articles on the site are current and timely, too, so that they support young people in real-time. Martin uses the example of the terror attacks in London to demonstrate the importance of this: “We saw people on our discussion boards with a high level of anxiety, because their friends were living in London or they were travelling to London for example, and the news was quite scary. So, we produced an article saying how to deal with anxiety triggered by the news.”

Aside from being predominantly digital, however, it is anonymity that really makes The Mix tick; their CEO tells us that the young people they’ve spoken to about it said that it was “non-negotiable”, though users do have a username and the opportunity to disclose more information about themselves, should they wish to. In the context of the site, anonymity hasn’t caused many issues, since it is handled responsibly a safe-space environment. It works because it allows people to find The Mix and use it for whatever they need – “from age 11 up to about 25, a hell of a lot can happen to you, from long-term relationships to exams, uni, and there’s usually something that young people may need us for in that period.”

Is social media damaging our mental health?

When asked whether social media can be a dangerous place for mental health Martin immediately denied that social media is inherently bad: rather, we need to use it more responsibly to see its power to do a lot of good. Martin believes that social media “wouldn’t exist” if there weren’t great aspects of it – “we all use it and we all like it to some degree; keeping in touch with people, finding out news”.

Image Credit: Pixelkult on Pixabay

Social media sites like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter can become detrimental, however, to young people when users overshare or go into detail on sensitive topics without thinking of the wider consequences. The Mix prides itself on the responsibility of its online community, where content is, to an extent, monitored by its volunteers to ensure that users feel safe. Martin uses the example of self-harm; graphic images and content is too readily available and often comes without a trigger warning.

Martin says that “For example, we are keen that young people, if they are self-harming, are able to discuss it, to learn how to get out of it or stop doing it. What they can’t do is glorify it or encourage it. We think a) that’s wrong, and b) it can be very triggering to young people who are trying to recover from it.”

He illustrates this further: “To put it in context, in our community you can talk about it but you can’t say how you did it, how often you did it, ‘I’m about to go and do it now’, we would not allow any of these things and it should be the same in every community.”

The importance of moderation...

Moderation and responsibility are vital: the last thing The Mix wants to do is censor the conversation completely. As Martin tell us, “it can be very isolating to feel like you’re the only one doing it.” In fact, Martin tells us that one of The Mix’s biggest achievements was their influence on Instagram’s vow to remove all graphic self-harm images from the app. Martin tells us that they had previously allowed  “recovery images, for example healing scars, and we suggested that actually, they shouldn’t have them at all, so they’ve now removed all of those because we think that the scars are just as triggering.”

The Mix, along with other youth organisations, are pioneering the way for a safe online community everywhere, not just on The Mix itself. Martin tells us that there are two things to consider in this agenda – firstly, ask “what do you need to do to the physical platform – how do these platforms control behaviours?”, and secondly, ask “how do you educate the people who use the platforms about what’s acceptable in the community?”. The latter may be orchestrated through blocking certain words, deleting graphic images and publishing guidelines. The Mix is exemplary for this, perfectly treading the fine line between encouraging conversation and simultaneously monitoring what’s being said – “we tell you what you can and can’t say, and we want other members of the community to enforce it, just as we would do in the physical world. If somebody went to a baby nursery and lights a cigarette, the chances are someone will tell them to put it out. You need a little bit of a law, everyone working together – people are there to have a good time and meet other people in a positive way.”

Plans for growth...

Martin tells us that the charity has expanded beyond the digital service – “we have about 15,000 (young people) a year who use the phone line and the same at the moment using the text service, so we look at providing the support that they need.”

For information that needs to be sourced quickly, The Mix offers articles and fast responses via its text service, whilst simultaneously providing the opportunity for one to one support and engagement with a safe and responsible online community. These options are important, as Martin tells us – “the various channels that we offer allow people to choose exactly how they want to engage with us, just as you may interact with your bank, choosing what service you need at that particular time.”

From the sheer growth of The Mix, we can see that advice is being sought digitally more than ever before. Social media is very difficult to escape and, whilst such apps and anonymity can be detrimental to a young person’s health if they are used irresponsibly, they are not ‘bad’ things in and of themselves. By establishing boundaries and monitoring content, both social media and anonymity can be utilised as the driving forces for establishing awareness and a network of support for the young people of today.

If you would like to find out more or get involved with The Mix, click here.  

If you are affected by a mental health issue, visit your local GP, or, for more information and support, visit The Mix or Mind.  

Lead Image Courtesy of Chris Martin. 




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