Twitter is a great source of discussion and yesterday this tweet from a diabetes consultant in the UK certainly did start an interesting conversation that had me thinking.

I should point out a couple of things before going any further. The tweet, asking if lack of guidance in social media is a concern, was in response to a tweet from someone else who shared a post from a Facebook page about insulin omission for weight loss. This is a very serious issue – one that I have written about here, (and elsewhere), and worked on a lot in the last decade or so.

Also, the consultant was absolutely not suggesting that social media is a ‘bad’ thing, and he is actually an advocate and user of online platforms, so this is not about the individual. It is about the issue at large.

Obviously, I am a huge fan of social media. Apart from finding online – and more broadly, peer – support an important part of my own personal diabetes management, I have built a significant part of my career extolling the benefits of online connections and the value of sourcing information and support from others living with diabetes.

The changing landscape of diabetes information and support over the last ten or so years has been significant. With more and more available online, and more and more people being online, there has been a real shift from healthcare professionals being the keepers of information and deciding what people with diabetes SHOULD know to a more egalitarian framework from which to source what we need.

While some may believe this to be the end of civilisation as we know it, (dramatic, I know), I consider this change terrific, because instead of having very controlled and conservative information on offer, there is now a veritable smorgasbord of material – and knowledge – from which consumers can pick and choose. Personally – I love being able to do that. Hearing personal experiences and picking up tips and tricks about day-to-day life with diabetes contribute to me making decisions about how to manage my own condition.

One of the suggestions frequently made about how to safely use SoMe is for it to be better moderated. My argument is that the power and value of SoMe platforms is that it is not moderated. Being free to share my ideas and experiences without fear (or perhaps care?) of judgement is not only useful, but also cathartic. And getting feedback from my peers often provides a different lens through which I can view a situation. Much of what I have learnt would not be found in the pages of a textbook, or offered in the office of a HCP. And that’s fine – there are other very valuable and important considerations that are shared in that context.

The idea of moderating online support – or any peer support, actually – is about control. It can be packaged up into a nice parcel of ‘protecting’ the person seeking the information, but that is not only patronising, but also incredibly demeaning. There is enough of that going on in more traditional settings – peer support is where there is freedom from that control – and a freedom to explore different ideas.

For me, peer support has always been about finding my tribe and learning from them. It has been about finding a source of sustenance and care that makes me feel better about my situation. It’s never been about replacing or substituting what I get from my HCPs.

So what is the role of HCPs in our support space? My belief is that it is a place for them to learn. There are times that it may be appropriate – and even encouraged – for HCPs to step in and share. On Facebook, one of Australia’s leading CDEs frequently comments and adds to conversations in closed diabetes groups. Her professional advice is always spot on – never judgemental – and her personal perspective (she has diabetes herself) shows just how it is possible to blend the ‘What-I’m-told-I-should-do’ with the ‘And-this-is-what-works-in-real-life’.

But not everyone who wants to be involved in this space has diabetes, nor should we expect them to. But I think for me, I have a very clear understanding of online and peer support works – and what everyone’s role is. When this works well, it works because it is being led by PWD; they (we!) are the ones driving the discussion and the focus. It’s not dangerous. We don’t need guidance. Because it is our space and we own it.

What peer support means to me,

What peer support means to me,