stock color photograph of a Black woman in vibrant blue jeans and a green hoodie sitting in a wheelchair and holding a digital tablet
(via iStock)

Some of the most affirming comments I receive on social media come from followers who say how much they appreciate that I share good news and personal wins publicly. They seem to genuinely enjoy knowing what new and exciting things I am involved in, which is very kind of them. 

I share my personal joys because my default mood is happy—it’s who I am and how I navigate life. Some of the things you might find on my social media pages are an excited post about getting tickets for Beyoncé’s newest tour or a tweet about a major work-related accomplishment. I like to share what makes my heart sing, and I hope my followers do the same. 

Another reason I share my joys is to combat the doomscrolling we are all guilty of. It is too easy to fall down the rabbit hole of all the ways humans are terrible to one another, and we keep scrolling even when our nerves are frazzled.  We all know doomscrolling isn’t healthy for us, but it is hard to look away from all of the “bad things” that occur—especially when it is at our fingertips 24/7. 

I do my part to combat the difficult news cycle by sharing my joys, but the joys I see others share—kids doing funny acts, pets displaying cuteness overload, and tender moments between people who love and care for one another—matter just as much. Sharing joy does wonders for our psyches because it reminds us that there is good in the world, even when our minds are exposed to bleak news.  

But as with most things, personal joy is conditionally received online—depending on who is sharing. I’ve noticed that women of color, particularly Black women, tend to receive pushback when they share their joys. You can almost always find a comment on a viral post from a Black woman expressing joy from someone trying to “put them in their place.”

Black women expressing joy is not a threat to anyone’s existence, yet we are consistently burdened with vile commentary deeply rooted in misogynoir. As a Black disabled woman, my joys matter, and sharing what makes me happy shouldn’t be treated as a privileged thing to do.  

Social media is the place where all aspects of humanity coexist. It can be a jarring experience to find yourself on the receiving end of being disliked simply because you shared the wins and joyous moments of life.  

On platforms where high engagement rates solidify higher visibility, negative, hate-baiting posts intent on riling up anger and often racist, sexist, and demeaning commentary confirm for me that the way we use social media is troubling. The online mob mentality is telling because many people saying hurtful things wouldn’t dare do so in “the real world.” Being mean online usually means that your behavior will be rewarded by people sharing and commenting on your post. Attention-seeking, judgmental, harmful behavior is reinforced by high engagement, giving many an incentive to make being contrarian their internet persona. Being contrarian simply for the sake of it wins, and the person behind the account receives responses (even the rightfully angered ones about their harmful post) and becomes the main character of the day, with little care about being represented negatively.  

Being heavily online over the last decade has certainly changed the way I view online spaces. When I’m tired of seeing the contrarian antics, I log off and return to a space where I’m not surrounded by it. My “real life” is not composed of people who are negative or hurtful at every opportunity, which has shifted how I present myself online and how much I consume of online life. This year, I have intentionally logged off more, and it has done wonders for my grounding.  

Observing the internal changes of being less online has pushed me to be intentional about what I say and share. If I am annoyed with how some people use online spaces, I have to be accountable. I ask myself: Do I want to be part of the problem, or do I want to help recondition the ways we engage? As I wrote earlier this year, online spaces are vital to helping communities connect and thrive. This is why it’s so important that we maintain a level of understanding as to why online spaces—including social media—must be safer for those who rely on them for community and connection.  

People have a right to share whatever joy they want and should not have to fear being mistreated because others are looking to cause a dust-up or are resentful of what they don’t have in their own lives. We all have a responsibility in how social media operates, and we all play a role in who actually wins and loses based on what they share and how it is received. For me, the world is hard enough. Finding and sharing joy is my way of softening that toughness. 

Vilissa Thompson, LMSW, is a contributing writer covering gender justice at Prism. A macro social worker from South Carolina, she is an expert in discussing the issues that matter to her as a Black disabled...