It's useful to apply the term 'emotional labor' to the educational work often undertaken by members marginalised social groups. Shouldn't at least some of the responsibility rest with others, then, who can educate themselves? There's a minefield hidden in the borders between 'just asking' questions, ignorance, and intentionally causing offence—these are volatile conversations which require a great deal of patience.
"Often to explain something political on Facebook requires a margin of suppressed emotions in order to not turn people away by being abrasive."
In its banner, the Free Emotional Labor Club declares itself to be 'Post-Leftbook,' referring to a constellation of left-wing Facebook groups running the gamut from Bernie Sanders' Dank Meme Stash to its sister group, 'Bernie Sanders' Dank Meme Stash 2 FULL COMMUNISM MODE' (or perhaps its more extreme cousin, a group known as 'In Defense of Stalin').Declaring themselves 'post'-Leftbook, the Free Emotional Labor Club (FELC) signals its disagreement with how these groups are run. But in practice the group is less 'post' than 'meta:' it helps its members navigate life in these same online communities. Posts range from queries about wearing leather shoes after you turn vegan, to correct use of the term 'creole,' to wheelchair users looking for ways to explain to other people that yes, they are able to walk, but are uncomfortable doing so all the time.
"It definitely has a history," said Marcus Gilroy-Ware, author of Filling the Void: Emotion, Capitalism and Social Media. "Even in the more informational, prosaic early web that was the case; it quickly became a case of looking for answers about who you were. Then again, whether or not technology is something that's able to do that, why are we in such doubt about who we are?"On social media sites at large, the 'personal brand' looms large. We're expected to arrive fully-formed, confident, and opinionated. We're tacitly encouraged to live up to the words in our bios, and are discouraged from ever changing our minds. Gilroy-Ware agreed: "I think doubt is something that's privatised and kept very hidden. It's driven beneath the surface, and stigmatised."It was the vulnerability of its users which first got me interested in the Free Emotional Labor Club. Question-answering platforms abound online, from the thorough, thoughtful replies found on Quora to their somewhat less polished equivalent on Yahoo Answers, but these examples are kept away from more mainstream social media sites—on Facebook and Twitter, as examples, we're far less likely to admit to needing help from other people.A short while ago I was scrolling through Twitter, and noticed a comment which stuck in my head. "Everything on social media upsets me these days," it read, concluding "should I double up my meds?" In the past I have felt similarly alienated from myself, and from my own judgment. I have turned to social media only to end up feeling worse.Why is it that we continue to use social media like it's our job? Perry speculated that this boils down to the amount of time users spend online, coupled with a perceived lack of personal agency: "I think it ties in with the fact that a lot of the most active members don't work full time, may or may not be students, live with their parents, have excess time, and spend copious amounts of time online regardless." He believes many have grown pessimistic about the effects of real-life activism, and so consider their online lives to be activism instead.Groups like the Free Emotional Labor Club, then, become sites of self-improvement: as with communities like Reddit's 'Am I Ugly?' you can solicit the judgment of a network. The only difference, here, is that the question is 'Am I morally good?"
On social media sites at large, the 'personal brand' looms large. We're expected to arrive fully-formed, confident, and opinionated.