We had a chat to one of our Hi-Tech Heroes, Gabby Frost, about her work, technology and rights. Read on to hear what she had to say!
Buddy Project has paired over 100,000 buddies! That’s a great achievement. Can you tell us a bit about what inspired you to start Buddy Project, and what steps you took to set it up?
I was inspired to create Buddy Project after having friends from school and Twitter who went through mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, self-harm addiction, and suicidal thoughts. They always told me that they appreciated my friendship because it helped them stay strong and push to recover. I always remembered this, and it helped create Buddy Project. One night while I was on Twitter, there were 3 girls who were contemplating suicide. After tweeting them support, I pondered how I could prevent people from committing suicide. I noticed the 3 girls all tweeted that they didn’t have a supportive family or any friends. This is when I remembered what my friends had told me, and I knew I had to create a system where people could receive a buddy so they wouldn’t be alone. Setting this up was a bit easy for me, since I’ve been using the computer often since I was younger. I had to set up a Twitter account to promote the idea and I used Google Forms to get the submissions for a buddy.
What is the process of pairing buddies – how do people sign up? What do you look for when pairing people? Which internet platforms do you use to pair them?
People can now sign up on Buddy Project’s website at www.buddy-project.org/signup. All you need to provide is your first name, Twitter username (or Tumblr now!), age, and two of your interests. When I pair people, I put together people who share their first choice interest or their second choice interest depending on how many people signed up with certain interests. I use the website to pair the buddies.
What does a relationship with a ‘buddy’ look like? How do they interact? Is their relationship entirely internet-based? What do buddies do together? Do you have a favourite success story from your project?
A relationship with a buddy can looks like many different things. Some people take the relationship to their full advantage and become best friends. Whether they just talk over Twitter, text message, Skype, FaceTime, or meet in person, the relationships between buddies are very beneficial. They have someone that’s there for them when they just need a friend, and that’s super important. Everyone deserves to have someone in their lives that will push them to be a better person and be supportive, and the buddies are giving these people exactly that. I don’t have a favorite success story because all of the ones that I’ve seen are truly incredible. There’s been a few buddies who have actually met in person, either at a concert or at the airport. Seeing people who connected solely over the internet meet in person is such a powerful thing to see.
“I think that social media positively affects mental health because a lot of people are able to see that they’re not alone much easier. They’re exposed to millions of other people, many who could have the same mental illness as them.”
What do you think are the benefits of using social media for your work? Do you think there is a relationship between the ability of social media to connect people, and mental health (positive or negative)?
Social media is definitely beneficial because I can connect people from all over the world. I think that social media positively affects mental health because a lot of people are able to see that they’re not alone much easier. They’re exposed to millions of other people, many who could have the same mental illness as them. Even though society pushes negative standards against us using media sometimes, I think it does more help than hurt. Bringing thousands of people together to fight the stigma of mental illness would never have been done in person; thanks to the Internet, I was able to do so using Twitter.
You mentioned that you think the stigma of mental health is toxic. How could we overcome this stigma? In what ways do you think mental health could be better addressed among young people?
I think that the stigma of mental health can only be overcome with education, kindness, and empathy. If we educate the world on what the reality behind mental health is, no one would be ignorant and think completely false things about it. I think schools need to put forth a better effort with educating students in schools about mental health. In my personal experience, I was only educated about mental health in 10th grade for a 1/4th of the year and the class only met every 3 school days. I feel like mental health deserves a good chunk of the year and should be retaught every 2-3 years starting when students are pre-teens. Puberty is the beginning of children’s bodies changing, and often their mental health can change as well.
We also need to spread kindness and be empathetic. There’s too many negative people in the world who will rain on anyone’s parade for no reason, or they’ll shut out how someone is feeling simply because they don’t understand. If we teach people how to see something from another person’s perspective, it could help out immensely.
What rights do you see your work promoting for young people? Do you think that the digital era has impacted on your rights in any way?
I think it gives young people rights because it allows them to see a vast amount of information about mental health as well as sexuality and gender identity. Without the Internet, some people wouldn’t be able to educate themselves on this kind of information. It also gives young people power to talk to whomever they’d like, which relates to the most important right: freedom of speech. Young people have easy access to write how they feel and can start revolutions that include thousands of people. The Internet and social media do a good job at assembling people from all over the world who all believe in the same thing and want to make a change.
You’ve accomplished a lot at a very young age. As a young person, have you experienced any hurdles in getting this far? What advice would you give to other young people who were hoping to use technology to make change in the world?
I’ve experienced a few hurdles, which are mainly due to not knowing how certain technology works. When I first started pairing buddies, I had no idea how to do it in an efficient way. Luckily my mom was able to help me out and I jumped over the first hurdle. After that, I couldn’t figure out how to have a professional website and present myself in a more professional way. Throughout the past 3 years of running Buddy Project, I’ve matured from a 15-year-old high school freshman to an 18-year-old incoming college freshman. I slowly jumped past that hurdle over time. The hurdle I’m trying to overcome at the moment is creating an app and more complex website. I also want to start fundraising and holding events since Buddy Project became a 501(c)(3) organization in December. I’m hopefully going to learn how to code soon in order to accomplish this and hope I’ll be able to advance to whatever challenges the next hurdle will bring me.
Technology has developed so much in recent years. So in just a few more years, it could almost be unrecognisable! Given that your work is technology based, where would you like to see your work go?
I would love for Buddy Project to become its own social networking site that people can have their own username/password for. It would also be awesome for it to be used all over the world in the different continents.