As uses of psychiatric force expand, can social media be better used to focus critical attention?


The most reliable data available suggests that millions of Americans from many walks of life have been subjected to psychiatric detentions and treatment against their will, and millions more have experienced unwanted psychiatric coercion under threat of commitment.

Where are all of these people? Especially with the massive growth of social media helping give voice and space to those who were previously blocked out of centralized news media, why don’t we see these millions constantly speaking out and sharing their perspectives on involuntary commitment?

I recently completed Your Consent Is Not Required, a book that investigates those numbers, people’s experiences of psychiatric detentions, and the science, economics, and politics of forced treatment today. Yet, despite so many people being affected—many in ways that they felt were profoundly unjust, unhelpful, and traumatizing—I found that focused, sustained discussions of wide public reach don’t emerge much or trend often in social media. Compared with social media discussions of other civil rights issues currently in the news and affecting millions of Americans, like abortion, sexual harassment, or police violence, involuntary commitment is off the radar.

It’s not that no one ever talks about psychiatric detentions or forced treatment on social media; indeed, there’s been a noticeable uptick over the past few years. But even those people rarely use common, clearly identified terms or hashtags in their posts, pages, or groups that make them easy to find.

On Twitter, as well as on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Mastodon and other social media, hashtags often get used to highlight key terms or ideas, and then function as organizing tools—anyone who clicks on the hashtag can instantly connect to other posts and people anywhere discussing the same issue. This can help disparate people find each other and share stories, support, and research, build alliances, educate others, politically organize, and catch the attention of news media. The result can sometimes be extremely potent: #MeToo developed from a unifying hashtag into a social movement and then an indelible national political symbol. #BlackLivesMatter, too.  But involuntary commitment doesn’t seem to have even a seed of such a hashtag. Consequently, on those occasions when forced treatment does hit mainstream news and then get discussed in social media, cohesive critiques remain difficult to find and rarely trend.

Why is this happening, and what can be done to change it?

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