One of the best things about the internet is its ability to eradicate the barriers of physical distance. Now, we can meet more people than ever before from anywhere in the world, creating an endless list of possibilities.
For many people, the freedom to express oneself without fear of harm can only be found on the internet. It is also possible to curate your online reality and environment in a way that you cannot in “real” life. For women and queer people, social media is a safe space to meet other people like us and to share political views, experiences and even form lasting friendships.
Document Women spoke with 21-year-old Ihsan, who has met most of her friends through social media, Twitter to be precise.
“Meeting people and becoming friends through social media feels so different. It’s so exciting because you talk to these people like you’ve known them your whole life and you only know how they look through pictures but when you get to see them in person? That’s another level of excitement,” Ihsan said, “I remember the day I was at a tattoo shop, and this beautiful babe walked in and said my name. I looked but couldn’t recognize her immediately but once she said her name, I was so excited because we were mutuals on Twitter and had spoken a few times and now we’re friends.”
Ihsan added how she got a job opportunity off a Twitter-enabled friendship, “One of the jobs I currently have, a friend I met on Twitter referred me for it and it’s the best thing that’s happened to me this year. So yeah, making friends on social media has been a good experience for me and it’s interesting.”
23-year-old Rume’s favourite thing about social media is that she gets to see people’s political views and general ideologies about life before even building relationships with them.
“Their views make you want to be friends with them. You hardly become friends with someone and then discover they’re a bigot later. You get to meet people with shared views and experiences and interests. By tailoring your content and who you follow to women who have similar views, there’s this accompanying feeling of kinship. Aside from the one-on-one conversations that develop into friendships, there’s also the general sense of community that forms from sharing space with women with similar views. It even deepened my friendships in real life. I also love all-women group chats.”
Angel is a facilitator of two women-only communities where women can meet, interact, exchange ideas, and share opportunities. “One of the best things that social media has done for women is that it has made it easier to access information and meet people that you wouldn’t have been able to meet otherwise. Information is abundant and, even though it can come with toxicity, social media can improve the lives of women”.
When she and her partner started the first platform; “As Equals Africa”, the men spoke over the women, in typical fashion. So, Angel made the executive decision to remove all the men, transforming it into a safe space for women to speak and be heard. The second group she created serves the purpose of networking and connecting women to career opportunities.
“I know there are some opportunities I would not have gotten if I was not active on Twitter and LinkedIn. The barriers to entry in many industries are high but women can use social media to level the playing field.” She gives the example of Renè Aderonke Ahmed whose life and social media presence serves as an inspiration to many other women online.
Social media also provides support spaces for women where they cannot find it in their immediate environment. Angel was assaulted in 2019 and it took its toll on her self-esteem and relationships. A woman she met online who enlisted the help of a professional on the subject helped Angel through her recovery process.
Above all, Angel is grateful for the access that social media creates. “It can be a bad thing or a good thing but I’m interested in manipulating it for good in the lives of women.”
For many women like Ihsan and Rume, the internet is a haven for meeting people like them. Social media removes barriers to socialization and so, it is instrumental in building community in this day and age.