Communities and Social Media

Anonymous, Healthy and Male: Social media assists men to join together in supportive online communities


Prior to the advent of social media platforms, the predominant methods for men to verbalise internal struggles were through such mechanisms such as medical experts, religious contacts or through face-to-face communication with other men. As social media has become more acceptable in society, it has provided a variety of alternative platforms for men to express their concerns, whether in open or anonymous format. While society often views social media with some skepticism, due to its portrayal of “the perfect life”, it is also a platform for exposing the not so perfect side of life. This paper presents a perspective on how social media platforms can be leveraged by men in dealing with mental health issues.

Anonymous, Healthy and Male: Social media assists men to join together in supportive online communities

Traditionally, the roles of males in many societies have been viewed as one of father, family provider, protector and handyman and/or being employed in fields such as medicine – as doctors, engineering or as a tradesman; whereas society has viewed the female role as one of mother, home-maker, secretary or nurse (Planned Parenthood, n.d). The stereotypes that have been linked to the male gender are those that, in today’s society, are often viewed as unhealthy and can have an impact on the mental health and well-being of men (Manline Australia, 2018). In a 2018 study, the Jesuit Social Services explored the social pressures imposed on young males, ages 18-30, in Australia and their perception and experiences of masculinity. The study looked at several male stereotypical roles and noted that the pressures based around these stereotypes lead to 54 percent believing that they had to solve personal problems themselves and that they should not ask for help (Jesuit Social Services, 2018). When considering a variety of social support mechanisms, social media can have a part to play in assisting men in discussing their feelings, pain and trauma and to view asking for support and help from others not as an affront to their masculinity, but as a way of self-empowerment. With any form of communication there can be problems, however with social media the general community is often only aware of the problems of social media, however they are not made aware that social media can play a role in helping our society. Online interaction can provide an environment where men can seek help and advice regarding personal or sensitive topics, either anonymously or using their real identity.

Stubbornness or Stigma?

When it comes to men seeking help, there is a general assumption in society that men are simply as stubborn as mules and that they would have to be almost dead before willingly holding their hand up and asking for help. One will usually hear the line of “yeah mate, everything is good” when asking a question about their well-being. However, is this simply stubbornness on the behalf of men and a “She’ll be right, I’ll get through” attitude or does the problem lie with how society views the masculine social and behavioural norms and how it approaches the topic of emotional and mental health in men? When it comes to male health issues, masculine norms are often alluded to in-order to avoid men doing anything about them (Tyler and Williams, 2014). Kimmel (1994, as cited in O’Brian et al., 2005 p. 504) notes that manhood is not a consequence of a person’s biological make up, instead it is a social construct created by the culture we inhabit. The socialisation of males and subsequent reinforcement of dominant masculine norms, such as implied toughness, independence, self-control – control of emotions – and how males should behave in Western cultures plays a part in why men struggle to open up about their feelings and emotions; even with their closest friends and family as they underpin the belief that men should be able to deal with problems or issues without any external assistance (Hanna & Gough, 2018; Rice et al., 2011). Due to societal assumptions and these norms about what a ‘real man’ is, men feel that if they do try and seek help they risk being stigmatised, leading to rejection and feeling isolated (Cai, 2016; Schlichthorst et al, 2019); further leading to social, emotional and mental health issues and potentially fatal consequences.

By conforming to masculine norms throughout their lifetime and by not reaching out, when experiencing social, medical or emotional problems, men are putting themselves as risk of increasing the likelihood of experiencing mental health issues such as depression (Rice et al, 2011). According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS, 2020), in 2019 there were 3318 deaths from intentional self-harm with males accounting for three-quarters or 2502 of those deaths, and 54.7% of those being in the 30 – 59 age bracket. Could this number be reduced by simply talking to another man? The findings of O’Brian et al (2005) show that while men may reach out and talk with someone, be it a trusted friend or a medical specialist, there were still concerns about seeking help, with some participants stating, “they would be willing to visit their doctor if something was really wrong” (p. 507). Unfortunately, due to the focus on physical illnesses and injuries, the unseen, the mental health issues tend to get brushed aside and not always taken into consideration (O’Brian et al, 2005).

With the advent of social media platforms, the avenues to reach out for help across a number of different formats have increased. Reaching out and connecting with someone is easier than ever, the internet and smart devices afford us the ability to connect with anyone and everyone from almost anywhere, be it with a close personal contact or by being anonymous and using a pseudonym.

Anonymous online

Social networking and media technology has been a part of our society in one shape or form since the early 1980s starting with bulletin board systems (Shah, 2016) through to the modern social networking and media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, amongst others. With the advent of smart device technologies, social networking platforms allow for the capturing and almost instantaneous sharing of key life moments. It is with these new communication technologies that people have the ability to maintain a persistent contact with others within their close personal network – be they friends or family – and as such the ability to broadcast information out to this network (Hampton, 2016).

Due to the risks of being stigmatised and further isolated when seeking information and help regarding personal and sensitive topics, it is not always easy for men to share information within their close personal network as opening up and talking is dependent on how strong one’s network is and given that men, due to masculine norms, see themselves as independent, creating strong networks can be difficult (Schlichthorst et al, 2019). The Online Support Groups that social media platforms create can be viewed as virtual communities where men can be provided with a safe and mostly anonymous space where they can engage with other men and create relationships with others that are relatively unknown to them (Watkins and Jefferson, 2013); these spaces are valued by their participants as they are able to receive the help and support that other social support channels cannot supply (Hanna and Gough, 2018). Reaching out online via social media as opposed to face-to-face has a three fold effect for men; these include such aspects as, their intended outcomes are similar to those provided in a face-to-face environment, increased certainty of Anonymity, and Greater access to support (Watkins and Jefferson, 2013). By remaining anonymous men are able to discuss topics that could be considered embarrassing or not conforming to masculine norms, this allows for the possibility of self-disclosure and an open and honest discourse leading to a closeness between those involved. Talking with other men that were in or had been in a similar situation is important; especially when discussing topics that could be viewed as stigmatising, such as mental health (Hanna and Gough, 2018; Watkins and Jefferson, 2013).

However, the idea of anonymity is being threatened. In recent years the larger social media platforms and technology companies have been pushing for a “Real Name” internet, where users must user their authentic name (Hogan, 2013; van der Nagel and Frith, 2015). The argument from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is that people are openly sharing information with more people and that the use of real names is a norm that has “evolved over time” and that the use of two or more identities shows ones lack of integrity. (Hogan, 2013, p. 291-292). While Facebook has a Real Name Policy “what names are allowed on Facebook” (Facebook, 2021) it is not stated on its sign up page. This is in contrast to one of the oldest and still active social media sites ‘The Well’, as all prospective members are made fully aware of this on their website and policy pages (; Well, n.d.a); as they believe, that while anonymity is ok, they do not believe that it assists in building a community and real connections (Well, n.d.b). Does this mean that anonymity will become a thing of the past? Not as long as there are platforms such as 4Chan or Reddit where users can either post anonymously or through the use of a pseudonym (van der Nagel and Frith, 2015). 4Chan founder Christopher Poole (username – Moot) disagrees with Mark Zuckerberg on Anonymity being inauthentic; Poole states that, “Anonymity is Authentic” as it allows for sharing in an “unvarnished, raw way” (Hogan, 2013, p. 292). This ongoing debate has supporters on both sides; however, in terms of men being able to seek help, until a level of trust has been established, the ability to enter into a conversation anonymously is an important part of not only receiving help but also being able to assist others. As the internet becomes more and more personal and more ‘real’ having online communities where anonymity is valued, allows for unfettered discussion, creativity, inspiration and variation (Knuttila, 2011).

Bringing men together

Social support has been recognised as a “psychosocial coping resource” (De Choudhury & Kıcıman, 2017) that is important for protecting against negative mental health effects. Social media provides a place where online communities allow men seeking help, advice or support, to come together to find that social support. Platforms such as Facebook provide men with a perfect place, albeit a non-anonymous environment, to be a part of closed groups. Ammari & Schoenebeck (2015) noted that users belonging to a closed Facebook group felt it “safe and private” enough to engage with other men regarding what challenges they were facing or to simply vent their frustrations (p. 1910); they also noted older group members would remain in groups to provide social support to the new group members. Facebook groups that have been created as social support groups are available across various themes and cater to the needs of their members. One closed group known to the author is the ‘The Fit Dad Lifestyle – Community’, this group was formed to assist and inspire fathers around the world to work on their fitness and to be the best fathers they can be for their children. With almost 4000 members, it is not only a place where the members discuss their fitness regimes, diets or goals and achievements, it is also a safe space for men to discuss whatever is bothering them and impacting both their physical and mental health. Group admin and owner Leroy Faure (2018) says this about the group:

You will get out of this community what you put in. […] The group is here as a security blanket for you […] If things are too much have the confidence to ask for help or reach out. […] Too many of us are too afraid to speak out and fight any mental illness. […] we all have had or still have issues in some way shape or form and what you are going through someone in this group has already been through it and came out the other side better for it.

It is indeed online communities like this that show how social media assists men in coming together to find the social support that they need.


Due to socially accepted masculine norms, the overall health of men is impacted by what they believe a ‘real man’ is or should be. They feel that any problems they are having should be dealt with and solved alone or at least with minimal help. Through its broad acceptance in modern society, social media affords men the ability to seek out other men either experiencing or with experience regarding the same personal or sensitive topics and engage in meaningful discussion. Although social media has a role in assisting men to connect and help one another, the topic of anonymity and the push by social media giants for the use of real names on their platforms could cause men to think twice before posting.

What may help in the future is to address the positive sides and chances of social media in regards to men’s mental health, rather than focus on the problems social media can cause in-order to enhance acceptance of the whole mental health topic and provide ways to help men affected by mental health problems.


Ammari. T., & Schoenebeck. S. (2015). Understanding and Supporting Fathers and Fatherhood on Social Media Sites. In Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’15). https://doi-

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2020). Causes of Deaths, Australia: Statistics on the number of deaths by sex, selected age groups, and the cause of death classified to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). 2019#intentional-self-harm-suicides-key-characteristics

Cai, B. (2016). The Facebook Group Giving Dudes Permission to Share Their Feelings. Vice. dudes- permission-to-share-their-feelings

De Choudhury, M., & Kıcıman, E. (2017). The Language of Social Support in Social Media and its Effect on Suicidal Ideation Risk. Proceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media. International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media, 2017, 32–41.

Facebook. (2021). What names are allowed on Facebook?

Faure, L. (2018, June 20). About this group. [Group Information]. Facebook.

Hampton, K.N. (2016). Persistent and Pervasive Community: New Community Technologies and the Future of Community. American Behavioral Scientist, 60(1), 101-124.

Hanna, E., & Gough, B. (2018). Searching for help online: An analysis of peer-to-peer posts on a male-only infertility forum. Journal of Health Psychology, 23(7), 917– 928.

Hogan, B. (2013) Pseudonyms and the Rise of the Real-Name Web. In J. Hartley, J. Burgess & A. Bruns (Eds.), A companion to new media dynamics: Network (pp. 290-308) John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated. origsite=primo&docID=3422436#

Jesuit Social Services, (2018). The Man Box: A study on being a young man in Australia.

Knuttila, L. (2011). User unknown: 4chan, anonymity and contingency. First Monday, 16(10).

Mensline Australia. (2018, October 29). Male stereotypes and the ‘Man Box’. Wellbeing Blog.

O’Brian, R., Hunt, K., & Hart, G., (2005). ‘It’s caveman stuff, but that is to a certain extent how guys still operate’: men’s account of masculinity and help seeking. Social Science & Medicine, 61(3), 503-516.

Planned Parenthood. (n.d). What are gender roles and stereotypes. what-are-gender-roles-and-stereotypes

Rice, S., Fallon, B., & Bambling, M. (2011). Men and Depression: The Impact of Masculine Role Norms Throughout the Lifespan. The Australian Educational and Developmental Psychologist, 28(2), 133-144.

Schlichthorst, M., King, K., Reifels, L., Phelps, A., & Pirkis, J. (2019). Using Social Media Networks to Engage Men in Conversations on Masculinity and Suicide: Content Analysis of Man Up Facebook Campaign Data. Social Media + Society, 5(4), 1- 13.

Shah, S. (2016). The history of social networking. history-of-social-networking/

Tyler, R. E., & Williams, S. (2014). Masculinity in young men’s health: Exploring health, help-seeking and health service use in an online environment. Journal of Health Psychology, 19(4), 457–470.

van der Nagel, E., & Frith. J. (2015). Anonymity, pseudonymity, and the agency of online identity: Examining the social practices of r/Gonewild. First Monday, 20(3).

Watkins, D.C & Jefferson, S.O. (2013). Recommendations for the Use of Online Social Support for African American Men. Psychological Services, 10(3), 323-332.

Well. (n.d.a) REAL PEOPLE, REAL NAMES. policy/

Well. (n.d.b) What is the Well?.

12 thoughts on “Anonymous, Healthy and Male: Social media assists men to join together in supportive online communities

  1. Hi Jeremy,

    I totally agree with your point concerning the portrayal of men on mainstream media.
    Also, I think its a pretty good idea actually! The fact that you’ll teach your child to differentiate between what’s real of fake amongst the mainstream media, will consequently reduce the level at which he or she will be influenced by those stereotypes, since from a tender age, he is already aware of what he is consuming

    Also thank you for taking the time to read my paper. Glad you enjoyed reading it and found the content interesting. Best!

  2. Hey Jeremy,

    This was an interesting paper which really shows how anonymity online can be used to create safer spaces for men to build communities of support. Whilst I agree that there are many positives to having anonymity online, my paper discuss’ how anonymity online can also be used to create toxic communities. My paper is about the misogynistic radicalisation of users in the incel (involuntary celibate) community. The incel community started off as a support group for young men, who were failing romantically, to share and find help. It then devolved into a toxic community in which users developed a misogynistic ideology that shifted the blame onto women. One of the reasons for this was because users were able to post horrible content under the guise of anonymity. Whilst I agree, as you’ve shown in your paper, that anonymity is important for helping men find the support they need, I do think that anonymity in communities can be dangerous in some cases. Did you find any negative consequences of anonymity online in your research?

    Here’s a link to my paper if you’d like to have a look:


  3. Hey Jeremy!
    I really enjoyed reading your essay. It was very insightful and a great choice of topic. I think the topic of how males are perceived and the role they are expected to play in society today is not spoken about enough, leading them with the issues of insecurities and feeling depressed, etc.
    With saying that, the perception of males in society has changed with time and the pressure has been taken off as a result. Social media and especially western media have reinforced the standardized image of what being a man is and what is expected of them within media which has obviously transpired into the real world.
    In my opinion, society often forgets about taking into account the feelings of males as they are often portrayed as being tough and strong-hearted which sometimes is not the case and this needs to be normalized.
    With social media and the platforms provided, I agree with the fact that these platforms have not only provided an atmosphere of comfort but it has allowed for communities to be built through having similar feelings as one another.
    It amazes me how much society judges people and how much it affects us as humans, forcing us to suppress our feelings whether it be males or females. This topic needs to be discussed and taken about more as I think this topic of conversation is considered to be taboo in some parts of the world.
    I really liked how you’ve included facts and how you’ve written an essay on a topic that needs to be explored and talked about more 🙂

    1. Hi Saranya,

      Thank you for reading my paper!

      How did you mean that the pressure has been taken off as a result of the current perceptions of men in society? Western Media unfortunately won’t changed the narrative on what the image of what they think a real man is….. the image of the tough guy hero sells movies!

      I agree with you regarding the feelings of men not being taken into consideration, terms like ‘stiff upper lip’ come to mind, however men do it to themselves by reinforcing the behaviour with the next generation, and if one tries to break away from this norm he is usually called a few choice names aimed at making him feel like less of a man.

      Mental Health in both sexes needs to be brought out into the open and openly discussed without fear, but until people stop worrying about what others think about them and put everything on the table, that won’t happen.

  4. Hi Jeremy!
    As a women who has been witnessing the stereotypes via social media of what is a “real man”, this paper was very insightful. A fact you mentioned that stood out to me was that 54% of men won’t ask for help and feel that they have to solve problems for themselves. I have observed that 5 of my 6 male friends may feel this way and I have always questioned “why won’t they talk to me? I am their friend”. Now, though your reading, I have realised that this is in fact an impact from society. Mens mental health, as well as body image, is almost a taboo topic when it shouldn’t be. The only male Influencer, not that I can say I follow many, I have witnessed sharing his mental health struggles is Mitchell Orval (‘Angry Dad’s’ son). I wish males sharing their struggles to get assistance and overcome them was more of a discussed topic in society, especially now that mental health is such a talked about topic in relation to women.
    A great paper Jeremy!

    1. Hi Alicia,
      Thank you for taking the time to read my paper and for your comments. I can only imagine how it feels for you to sit by and watch your friends struggle – telling them that you are there for them, and for them not to reach out to you.

      I am constantly reinforcing in my young son, that no matter what, he can always come to me and talk to me about anything and everything.

      I have seen the Angry Dad videos before and had a good laugh, I mean who doesn’t love to prank their parent/s, but I did have to look him up and instead of finishing this reply started watching his youtube channel with his wife….. sorry 🙂 I will have to check him out some more – thanks for the tip.

      I also wish that men would just get over themselves and talk to someone, it could at the end of the day save their life!

      Have a great weekend 🙂

      1. Hi Jeremy!
        I am always sure to let them know but I feel as if societal ways have been heavily engraved, in not just their but many others, ways.
        I strongly appreciate and commend you and reinforcing the importance of communication to your son.
        I am glad you enjoyed watching Angry Dad! It is good to have a laugh sometimes haha.

  5. Hello Jeremy Porteous,
    I found your paper really interesting, and it was an enjoyable read! I really liked the way you described the stereotypes and the so called “roles” of males in the society. Indeed, the western media has highly contributed to creating an essentialist image of man within media and its quite problematic! since these representations can be harmful to males from tender ages as research proved they will internalize these expectations and accept the idea that males are to be viewed as dominant, tough, has full control of emotions and independent. I totally agree with your argument that the online space has provided a safe and more comfortable place for men to voice out, along with its privacy features and anonymity. People are more at ease inside these community networks because social media sites and online forums offer a significant platform; a “third space”; for them to feel a sense of belonging and that they are not alone, resulting in a reduction in depression levels.

    Good points! Thank you for this piece !

    Moreover I would really appreciate if you could take some time to read my paper on how Social Media and Online Health Communities are Changing psychological states and the fighting against depression. Here’s the link :

    1. Hi Theshandev,

      Thank you for reading and enjoying my paper.

      The Main Stream Media, as well as Movies play a very large role in influencing people and how they ‘should’ act. Males are constantly being portrayed as the Hero or as a Lone Wolf who will get everyone to safety or will save the day. Or if you wear this type of deodorant, you will be more attractive, of course the most vulnerable fall for this advertising and when life doesn’t work out ‘as advertised’ can have consequences for that person.

      As a Father I am trying to instill in my child that it is ok to talk with me about anything and everything, no matter what, luckily he is still of an age where the input of the media is controlled by myself and his mother. Hopefully we will be able to raise him to be able to tell the difference between reality and what is ‘on offer’.

      I will now go and have a read of your paper.



      1. Hi Jeremy,

        I totally agree with your point concerning the portrayal of men on mainstream media.
        Also, I think its a pretty good idea actually! The fact that you’ll teach your child to differentiate between what’s real of fake amongst the mainstream media, will consequently reduce the level at which he or she will be influenced by those stereotypes, since from a tender age, he is already aware of what he is consuming, and also for sure this method will contribute in reinforcing the bond between you and your child 🙂

        Also thank you for taking the time to read my paper. Glad you enjoyed reading it and found the content interesting. Best!

  6. Interesting topic Jeremy.

    The roles of males in society let alone family, have changed over decades.. Many in fact. This change phenomenon is commonly accepted by those men who live within it and with the many influences that stimulated this role redesign. Fifty years ago, the role of young men and indeed married men with families to support, went through both an Industrial upheaval and a domestic welfare realignment, mostly due to the nature of employment demarcation, and emerging social behavioural corrections, that, and legislation, which invariably impacted upon all things with a legal meaning . The Industrial world changed…..and even now…there are no life sustaining job opportunities. And it is this very situation that undermines the ‘Warrior’ instinct in men to survive. In which they feel they have a responsibility….even for just themselves….which gives them status and standing in their own personal circles and community. Inherent gender behavioral tendencies are not necessarily a natural expectation, but rather by, male lessons taught and learnt by look, watch and see, the actions of Fathers Uncles and Seniors in the community. The young adult males of today are not all necessarily confused about what their role and responsibilities are in life generally, or even within the Family unit. Their change, was a slow progressive ‘morphing’, into a male who is aware and understands that women are an equal part of a working society, an equal partner in business and homemaking. All my extended family are into social media as a means of communication. The ‘men’ in my family and their ‘male’ friends have no role hangups or conflict with ‘stereotypes’. These men understand their position in life and are ‘attuned’ to what life ahead has in store for them. They are masters of their own destiny. These are the ‘modern 30 year olds of today). The theme of your presentation suggest to me that those of whom you refer to…. family life and upbringing has undermined their confidence and spirit. Young men in this situation probably had no Father, or mentor or ‘life coach’ etc….growing up confused, as to who they are and what should they be?. As a 76 year old male, I have lived the autocratic male role as the breadwinner and decision maker, and raised 9 children. And during that time, I adjusted to new social norms and change, …by role redesign, due to new life influences that just kept coming. While I may be still locked into the male attitudes of the ‘Past’ ….including my morals, ethics , values towards and principles…..and continuing family responsibilities….. my observations of my own grown adult children, (particularly the boys), are very well adjusted, and know and understand what to expect in this modern day age of life. And understand what they need to know and do, to meet the future.

    1. Hi Christopher,

      Thanks for your comment.

      You are correct it is a very interesting topic, one that I have only skimmed the surface of.

      Indeed, the roles of males have changed significantly over the decades and as such how we perceive ourselves in the world.

      You raise an interesting couple of points with employment and the ‘Warrior’ instinct, while yes nowadays there are no life sustaining job opportunities given that the cost of living continues to increase faster that wage increases, there is also the issue of people job-hopping in search of a better opportunity, instead of trying to do a good job and work their way up through a company – the grass is not always greener on the other side. Have I done this? Yes, but only after sticking it out longer than I should have before realising that my hard work and loyalty to that company was being overlooked. The Warrior instinct in males, I would disagree with you here in regards to the former point, I left my previous employment due to being overlooked as I had a family to provide for, it was this very instinct to survive and protect that lead me to get my current job.

      Behavioural tendencies are indeed a product of learning and having a male role model or father figure in one’s life plays a large part in the construction and evolution of our own behaviours.

      My Paper broaches the theme of how social media can assist men of all ages in reaching out or seeking help/advice as they need it, it was not focusing on any one age group in-particular – yes I referenced a study where the age group was 18-30 year old, however the age group of 30-59 was also referenced in regarding the level of suicide. There is a 32 year age gap between you and I, however the ‘male attitudes of the past’ you mention – morals, ethics, values and principles are important things to pass on to the following generations, they are things that we are losing as a society and need to be maintained.

      Both you and I have tread similar ground and have lost good friends due to the stigma of reaching out as a male – even to people that have been in the same situation as us and/or due to the black dog, why is that, why do we as males sometimes feel that we can’t reach out? The way we have been conditioned is part of the problem, terms like malingerer also play a part in that.

      Thank you again Christopher for taking the time to both read my paper and to comment. I greatly appreciate it.

      Kind Regards


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