Social media is not a village, people.

A passionate plea for ensuring the mental health of you and your community: please remember to gossip.

Chip Colquhoun
5 min readMay 18, 2021
A post on social media is like trying to speak to your friends by putting a poster in your window: fine, but only if they happen to look at that window.

Two days ago I lost an incredibly good friend. He was a supporter of my storytelling work from the very first days. We shared many heated yet convivial debates on a range of subjects — and while we rarely agreed, I think we both appreciated each other’s point-of-view.

He was the first person to ever invite me to his stag do — the first of only three to date — and he and I ended up chatting long after everyone else had left. I had the honour of videoing his wedding, and have several fond memories of him sharing his passion for photography with me.

If it hadn’t’ve been for him moving from Cambridgeshire to Devon in 2015, I’m certain our friendship would’ve continued a climb to great heights.

As it was, we fell out of touch — occasionally messaging, commenting, etc, but nowhere near as much as we had done. My engagement with our other mutual friends also gradually reduced, while my engagement with new circles increased — and the social algorithms, in all their wisdom, decided this meant I clearly no longer deserved to see my friend or his wife in my newsfeed.

Outside of social media, though, I still regularly thought of him. Even as recently as last Thursday, as I crossed Riverside Bridge in Cambridge, I looked down at the field where he’d insisted on doing a photoshoot for me.

It was that reminiscence which prompted me to consider contacting his wife for help with a current project, since I was sure their child would be of the right age now.

So, two days ago, I opened up his wife’s social profile to message her — and, as I’m sure anyone would, quickly skimmed her profile to make sure I wouldn’t be sending an inappropriately jaunty message while she was facing difficulties. I’ll admit I didn’t scroll far — only to about the middle of April — but I saw nothing more than positive posts about the activities of her and her daughter. I even quickly checked my friend’s profile too, and saw a post from February fondly celebrating his family.

So I went ahead and sent my message.

A couple of hours later, and I was staring dumbstruck at her reply — telling me my friend had died in March, and so she was not in a position to help me right now.

In my shock, I contacted one of our mutual friends to ask if she knew. She did, and was surprised that I didn’t.

After all, it had been posted to social media…

I want it to be clear that I am not blaming anyone. I don’t blame my friend, nor any of our other mutual friends, for not asking me if I’d heard. I certainly don’t blame my friend’s wife; in her grief, she couldn’t’ve been expected to contact everyone on my friend’s contact list. I can’t even blame the algorithms, as it goes off the data it’s given — data which has, in the past, helped to strengthen my relationships with others, including the woman who is now my wife.

I’m also not trying to suggest that my grief is in any way comparable to anyone else’s. I can’t begin to imagine what his wife and daughter are going through right now, given the sudden and unexpected nature of his death.

But it is intensely discombobulating to think that, for me, he effectively died two days ago; mine is the raw grief that our mutual friends suffered almost two months ago. So they are far further along in their processing of it than me right now.

By comparison, my mother also lost a dear friend the other week. She was actually in the house when her friend passed — and yet, by the time she was visiting another friend to share the news, phones all around the village were buzzing with people passing on the news and/or their condolences.

All of this has really drummed into me some very important lessons for our age, that I sincerely hope you take away from this story…

First: Social is not a village.

Just because you see something on social media, that does not mean everyone else has.

Please don’t refrain from checking in with people on an assumption that, if they’re not saying anything, they clearly don’t care; it’s far more likely that they actually just don’t know.

Second: posts and comments and likes are no substitute for messaging, video calling, or even good old-fashioned emails, phonecalls, “snail mail”.

Social media may let you quickly find out which of your friends share your opinions and interests, but those aren’t always the greatest of friends. Heck, one of my favourite and best friendships that developed throughout a 2020 full of video calls is with a buddy who I know shares a social platform with me, and yet he hardly pops up in my newsfeed with that platform. Why? Because we met via Zoom instead of that platform’s messaging service.

And third: social media is not a replacement for gossip — and gossip is important for societies and their people to function with the best mental health.

By complete synchronicity, I happened to find this episode of Crowd Science in my BBC Sounds player yesterday:

Please give it a listen. Gossiping is not the same as “being a gossip”. The latter is someone who delights in being seen as a font of all knowledge, regardless of the pain they may cause by sharing things insensitively — whereas gossip is essential for keeping communities together.

Even if you don’t have time to listen to a podcast, please do make time for one another.

Emphasis on the “one”: a post is a sign on your window to all and sundry — if they happen to be passing; a conversation is a meeting of minds that leaves an almost irrefutable certainty, on at least one side, that it happened.



Chip Colquhoun

A storyteller from birth (professionally since 2007), I'm happiest when I know I'm enriching the lives of others.