By Natasha Joibi
With an increasingly hyper-connected world, it's no surprise that social media influencers wield considerable power, and can impact everything from brand awareness to fashion trends and buying decisions.
But even as thousands of followers hang on their every word, some key opinion leaders have been actively using their platforms to spread positivity.
Take, for instance, Malaysia's Khairul Aming Kamarulzaman.
A bona fide TikTok star, thanks to his culinary-themed videos, the 31-year-old sambal entrepreneur is, without doubt, one of the hottest content creators in the region.
Yet, it isn't just his sambal and recipes winning him fans. His constant stream of positive and inspiring messages has helped make him a household name, even among non-foodies.
Case in point, his speech at the TikTok Malaysia Awards 2023, where upon being crowned "Creator of the Year", he took it upon himself to advise young people to stay in school, even if they do have ambitions of following in his footsteps and becoming content creators.
And then, of course, there are all his posts which seek to inspire a love for animals, especially stray dogs.
Open and authentic
Like Khairul Aming, content creator Ceddy Ang also rose to fame on Twitter, TikTok and Instagram through his food posts.
But beyond the humorous food vlogs, the 35-year-old Penangite has also seen a need to address mental health wellness by, among others, being open about his own struggles.
"I was (always) targeted because I was short and small-sized. I didn't have a deep voice. (And) when I started creating content, netizens constantly asked whether I'm male or female, calling me pondan (transexual) and pengkid (butch lesbian).
"That took me back to my school days, where I loathed myself to the point that I no longer have any of my old photos," he recalls.
Thankfully, Ang says, he has learnt to respond to negativity with compassion. And that has a lot to do with his therapist, JC.
"Before talking about mental health, you have to be able to share that you've personally experienced getting mental assistance, and I'm transparent about this," he said.
"I always tell people that seeing a therapist or a psychologist is like seeing a friend, except that that friend is qualified and has the tools to help you navigate your emotions.”
Social media can be 'brutal'
Singaporean content creator Ian Jeevan Prasad Arumugam, who also uses TikTok to raise awareness about mental wellbeing, says being authentic is key to promoting positivity.
Nevertheless, like Ang, he is quick to admit that social media can be a "brutal space", and that even as he has tried to be positive with his content, the journey has been challenging.
"About 90 per cent of the comments (when I first started creating content) were positive. But as long as there were negative comments, I would feel down about myself," he recalled, adding that he now chooses to focus instead on the good he can do by speaking about his own experiences.
But is choosing to ignore the haters the best course of action?
Perhaps. Yet, Sabahan Viviantie Sarjuni, whose audience on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn mainly comprises entrepreneurs and community leaders, is of the view that it is also necessary to recognise one's motivations.
"I've shared about my own mental health experiences, which had deteriorated to the point where I had to seek help from experts, and might have ended my own life. Some called me an attention-seeker (for doing that), (but) I don't regret sharing my experiences because my intention was to save lives," said the influencer, who also serves as the general manager of Sabah Creative Economy and Innovation Centre (SCENIC).
Enriching the digital space
To clinical psychologist Aishah Diyana Baharudin, social media platforms serve as an invaluable resource for receiving and providing support; a fact proven during the multiple COVID-19 lockdowns.
However, it is just as important to maintain a healthy balance between social media use and protecting mental health by setting personal boundaries with technology.
"One's relationship with social media plays a significant role in how they're affected by the comments made. If one absorbs everything without evaluating the truth or bias behind the comments, it becomes easy to be affected by them," Aishah said.
As such, the mental health expert notes, maintaining a "safe distance" from comments and feedback can help put these into perspective.
"This can help reduce fixation on the content of the comments and allow them to be viewed as part of the process of being on social media, rather than a reflection of who one is," she said.
That being said, what can't be denied is that social media presents an opportunity for self-reflection, growth, establishing genuine bonds and developing a sense of shared community.
So, while it is a fact that uncontrolled social media use can lead to negative effects such as anxiety, imposter syndrome, feelings of inadequacy, demotivation and procrastination, what is also true is that so many influencers have and are playing a role in helping enrich the digital space.
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