Social media and stuttering

This article was first published in the Fall/Winter 2011 version of CSA Voices.

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Upon returning home from the National Stuttering Association conference in Fort Worth, Texas last year, I’ll admit that one of the first things I did was log onto Facebook. Its normal addictive powers are even greater when you come home from a conference that hosted 800 people and you want to connect with them. During the first few post-conference days, I felt like I was high on Facebook. I spent more hours than usual on it, adding new stuttering friends and browsing through profiles. It’s the power of social media.

However, my views on social media weren’t as optimistic as they are now. I used to think that “social networking” was anything but social. It's rise – along with emailing and text messaging – marked an opportunity for people to escape speaking directly to each other.

The popular site Mashable.com even deemed a Social Media Day (which I celebrated in good fashion by tweeting about it) to commemorate the power of social media and the technological advancements over the years. Yet I felt that this could create a problem, for stutterers in particular. I’ll admit that sometimes I’ll use electronic communication as a means to avoid speaking to someone directly. The fact is that social media provides a good avoidance tool – but only if we let it become one. It isn’t a replacement of other communication tools, but rather an adjunct to traditional communication. It can foster avoidance, but in reality, it can also help us as stutterers.

How we can use social media productively

A couple weeks after returning from the NSA conference, I found myself signing into Skype, the internet application that allows users to make voice and video calls online, for the first time in years. A few minutes later, I was in a group video chat with a few friends from the conference – a fellow Canadian, one from New York and one from California. In the midst of talking to them, it dawned on me again: the power of social media. It brings people together across different countries or even continents, and lets us maintain friendships we make at events like the NSA conference. Then came Google Plus. For me and some of my friends, this became our Skype replacement. In fact, we recently made it a weekly tradition to meet on Google Plus for a video chat – using Google Lingo, it’s called a “hangout.” It acts as a support group, as most of the time we share stuttering stories, learn from each other’s experiences and offer help to each other. For me (and I’m sure others as well), it allows me to practise speaking – and avoid avoidance.

Not only that, but social media can help increase awareness of stuttering. There’s no way that people who stutter haven’t heard the name of Philip Garber recently. As first reported by the New York Times several weeks ago, he’s a 16-year-old student and person who stutters, who was told not to speak in class. Since the story went live, I was amazed at how quickly it spread virally. People tweeted about it. People commented about it. People posted about it on Facebook (including myself).  And not just stutterers, but non-stutterers as well had something to say about the issue. I thought it was great for awareness.

From a marketing perspective, social media can unite people under common causes. Not only that, but it can reach audiences worldwide; it can increase awareness about particular issues, such as stuttering, and it can foster dialogue between people about these issues.

Most organizations nowadays have their own Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. Many even recruit social media personnel to specifically maintain these accounts. The NSA. The Canadian Stuttering Association. The British Stammering Association. They all have Facebook pages. It’s a daily occurrence that at least one person posts a question or comment about stuttering on the NSA Facebook page. And, within hours at the most, they will get a response. Again, the power of social media. People with common issues, such as stuttering, can come together, discuss their stories and help each other out. If you have a question about stuttering, post it on Facebook.

Therefore, I encourage fellow stutterers to take advantage of the abundance of social media tools and resources out there that are available by a few clicks of your mouse. Follow the CSA, BSA facebook page , NSA Facebook pages and Twitter feeds (@WeStutter and @CSAStuttering).

Get connected with people on Skype. Sign up for a Google Plus account and connect with other people who stutter.

Samuel Dunsiger is a writer who lives in Toronto.