• I recently had the opportunity to attend the 10th anniversary of Social Media Camp.

    The annual conference, held in Victoria B.C., is Canada’s largest social media event. Marking a decade as a leader in the digital and social media space made this particular year uniquely special.

    It was a reflective conference, with speakers and attendees looking back over a “decade of disruption,” as opening keynote Scott Stratten described it.

    The themes running through most of the presentations were thoughtful and philosophical– looking back, taking stock of where we are now as practitioners and consumers, and analyzing the impact of social media integration into our daily lives and work. Much of the tone was cautionary, with a number of the presentations focused on the dark side of social media and technology. None were more moving than Sam Fiorella’s main stage presentation on Social Tribalism.

    In his compelling talk, Fiorella explored how political movements, social class systems, and religious conflicts have swayed society’s pendulum from one extreme to the other. Today, according to Fiorella, technology is the driver propelling society to yet another extreme: Social Tribalism.

    Despite the promise of building communities, social media has, in fact, done the opposite. Phenomena such as social isolation and the fear of missing out have become the study of modern psychiatrists and social anthropologists.

    Instead of building friendships, Fiorella asserts, social media has contributed to further divided communities, cyber-shills, the rise of fake news, trolling, mental health issues, and suicides.

    Fiorella is a founder and partner at Sensei Marketing, an award-winning author, and a professor of marketing. He has an expert understanding of how technology has influenced the manner in which we learn, communicate, and engage today. He speaks from experience.

    In 2014, Fiorella lost his son Lucas to suicide. As a result, he has worked tirelessly as a mental health advocate, co-founding of The Lucas Fiorella Friendship Bench, a not-for-profit organization developing positive and stigma-free peer-to-peer conversations about mental health in schools across Canada.

    Suicide has become the second leading cause of death among Canadians aged 15-34, according to statistics provided by the University of Guelph. That does not include the number of students who have considered suicide or who have dropped out due to depression or other mental-health-related issues.

    According to Statistics Canada, more than 50 per cent of students who suffer from depression never report it to friends, family, or professionals.

    One of the organization’s key goals is to install yellow friendship benches on campuses and schools across the country. The benches are a visible symbol and connect to a digital campaign and on-the-ground resources to encourage peer-to-peer conversations about mental health among students.

    For good or ill, the social media genie is out of the bottle. Let’s do what we can to support its positive use.

    Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This article first appeared in the Maple Ridge News.