Online Humour vs Ridicule

– Written by our volunteer, Megan

When it comes down to what makes something funny or not, trying to pinpoint why something personally makes us laugh can be tricky. Not only are personalities vastly diverse and influenced by individual experiences and culture but there are also many different styles of humour. In social situations, humour can sometimes serve a purpose too. Someone might use humour as a form of self-enhancement, while another person might use self-deprecating humour to get people on their side. Most of the time though, we just want to make others laugh while putting life’s accomplishments and failures into a light-hearted context.

We know that our ‘social life’ now extends to virtual spaces. In 2020, 87% of 12–15-year-olds had a social media account and 95% of young adults between the ages of 16-24 also used social media, making young people the biggest users in the UK. Unsurprisingly, we spend a lot of time laughing online whether it’s through sharing memes with friends or watching videos uploaded by our favourite content creators. Just like in real-life social situations, what we laugh at online varies in style and purpose. Sadly, this frequently extends to a more disturbing style of humour in the form of mocking others and if you’re a young person affected by drugs and alcohol, you’re probably already very aware of this. Content involving alcohol or drug use is very common online, but the type of content we see often reflects the different perceptions of problems and prejudices that exist in real life.

Humour as a Coping Mechanism:

Self-deprecating humour can provide some people with relief from anxiety and tension. We can turn something we are struggling with into a joke and instantly feel better. During the Covid lockdowns, we kept in touch online and continued to make each other laugh. We posted about our struggles and fears as we blindly navigated ourselves through events none of us had faced before. This meant we saw a lot of people posting about how much more they were drinking during lockdown, often in a way that was meant to be light-hearted and relatable. Although this likely reflects behaviour we should take more seriously, it was ultimately a way to cope with the weird reality we were faced with.

Outside of lockdown, we have always laughed (or cringed) at ourselves when we are hungover. Drinking too much is something we do well in Scotland and when we joke about it, almost everyone is in on the joke because we’ve all been there. The fact that everyone is in on the joke makes this behaviour seem socially acceptable and sadly ‘normal’ in Scotland, even from a young age. However, it’s worth noting that humorous stories and social media content depicting other types of substance use don’t always get the same type of laugh. There are other types of videos we see where we aren’t laughing collectively but laughing at a group or person instead.

Mocking Others Online:

Although drug deaths are at an all-time high in Scotland, that doesn’t seem to stop some of us from laughing about those experiencing substance use problems online. There are some pretty ‘famous’ videos littered around social media that are re-uploaded time and time again on every new platform and manage to make their way into every funny Scottish compilation video on YouTube. The person being recorded is normally heavily under the influence of drugs and struggling in an everyday situation where they aren’t fully aware they are being filmed. These videos instantly take on a very different tone in comparison to comedic clips of friends drinking or taking ‘party drugs’ where everyone seems to be in on the joke and there isn’t a torrent of hateful language in the replies. It’s clear that we separate certain types of drug use from others and although it is not a new question to ask, it’s worth continuing to consider how fair or hypocritical this is.

Shock-value humour works for a reason, and we have all laughed at something we felt we shouldn’t have after. Even though I’ve been a young person affected by family members’ drug and alcohol use myself, I have still found myself laughing at these types of videos on rare occasions (even though I shouldn’t). However, catch me at the wrong time and the opposite can happen, ruining my whole day. Family members already deal with stigma by the association in day-to-day life and not being able to escape this online either can add to the feelings of isolation they already experience in real life.

We know that public shaming can have serious psychological consequences on individuals. By filming these videos and constantly re-uploading them, we are potentially making substance use more of a national problem than it already is by negatively impacting the mental health of the people struggling in the videos. Telling a dark joke where a group of people are the target will likely always be defended as a form of free speech, but it’s a different matter when a single individual features in an online video that will exist forever. At the expense of a laugh, some people seem to forget that these individuals also have parents, children and friends that worry about them.

What Can We Do?

There are no quick and easy solutions to problems such as these. The language often used in the comment sections of these videos highlight the stigma and hate some individuals with substance use problems continue to face. Terms like ‘the J word’ focus on the problem rather than the human being and serve to further dehumanise the people in these videos, making this type of public humiliation seem acceptable. We need to keep educating those around us to try and use people-first language to humanise people experiencing these problems and reduce the stigma felt by friends and family. Maybe then, it will get to the point we realise how cruel it is to film someone when they are in such a vulnerable state.

If you’re a young person affected by this issue you could try and cut back on social media usage if it’s impacting your mental health, or at least try and be mindful about the types of virtual spaces you visit. It is impossible to police the internet, but we can try to control what we see and if it helps us avoid content that might ruin our day then it’s worth it.

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