By Alexandra Grenier
Le Centre pour l’intelligence émotionnelle en ligne (CIEL, or the Online Centre for Emotional Intelligence) was created two years ago. Its creators are Alexandre Champagne, a comedian and photographer, and Emmanuelle Parent, who holds a doctorate in communication. This foundation’s mission is to integrate all the principles of emotional intelligence into the numeric world as well as into our daily lives.
“Emotional intelligence is a skill we can use to identify, express, understand, master and use our emotions. In other words, it’s about how to use emotions intelligently,” says CIEL’s website. The foundation hates it that many digital platforms “exploit our psychological weaknesses for economic gain.” That makes online emotional intelligence very important.
Emmanuelle Parent explains that in general, the business model of these digital platforms is based on the time we spend looking at different posts. “Psychologically, we tend to pay more attention to content that is negative and anxiety-provoking. So for platforms, it would be unnatural for them to put measures in place that would reduce hatred, because it would reduce their profits.”
Two parallel stories are at the origin of the foundation’s creation. Alexandre Champagne was a photographer whose clients often asked him how they could get more “likes” for their photos. He realized that this was a new problem that people, especially youths, wrestle with nowadays.
At the same time, Emmanuelle Parent was pursuing a doctorate on the use of social media by teenagers. She was part of a student activist organization called Bien-être numérique (Digital Health). This group already had created a digital self-defence workshop for high schools, among other projects.
After Champagne had posted a video that talked to young people about the digital world and social media, he and Parent met. They decided to combine their forces and create CIEL. Bien-être numérique is now a creative committee within CIEL.
By and For Teens
Though CIEL also works with all sorts of community organizations, their efforts are mostly focused on high school students. “At the heart of our activities,” says Parent, “is the digital self-defence workshop for students from secondary 3 to secondary 5. It’s a workshop that was developed by young people in consultation with young people, and it has been approved by public health authorities.” As of December 2nd, 2021, over 7,000 young people had participated in the workshop.
Its main goal is to “awaken the critical spirit in young people when it comes to their digital environment,” Parent explains. One of the ways to reach this goal is to let teens speak up about what they think the problems related to the digital age are, for example. “There’s a dynamic which happens in each class. When someone comes up with a positive point, someone else will come up with a negative counterargument, then someone else will chime in with another positive point.”
She says that despite the often negative image media brings us about the effect of digital platforms on the young, it’s not really the reality. Even if youths voluntarily concede that a lot of social media content is “fake,” that which they post themselves isn’t necessarily false.
“When they talk about their personal use, they say, ‘What I put out there is true. I posted a photo of my soccer team, that’s really us and we really did play a game.’ They document the reality of their lives, and that allows them to assert themselves in their own interests,” Parent argues.
She confirms that social media can have a very negative impact on self-esteem, but that it’s possible to counterbalance this. “Young girls are exposed to bodies that conform to norms of beauty that may not necessarily correspond with their own,” Parent says. “We have to reflect more on this.” Some young girls notably say that they’ve unsubscribed from influencers that didn’t make them feel good about themselves. Others have subscribed to feminist accounts.
Even if people can learn about how to consume social media more intelligently, everyone can do something to make their usage even safer and healthier. Parent explains it this way: “Two people who follow the same influencer can have different reactions. One can compare themselves to the influencer and feel bad about themselves, whereas the other can find it interesting because the influencer talks about subjects close to their heart. So we can’t say: ‘Here are some good practices that will work for every teen.’ It really depends on each teen’s vulnerabilities.”
She argues that social media use that was at one point was positive can turn negative over time. She uses the example of a woman who sees photos of her friends’ babies, at first a source of joy, until she tries to get pregnant herself without success. These photos can therefore create negativity that she didn’t feel before she saw them.
Given the very personal side of digital consumption, Parent explains that the critical spirit is at the heart of workshops offered by CIEL. “It means being capable of introspection and of self-evaluation. Often you are the best judge of what kind of social media use is best for you.”
Improving the Digital Sphere
Despite the advice given at CIEL’s workshops, there are some changes that should be made to digital platforms. For example, most social media platforms have enacted a minimum age in order to log on. Tiktok has put a mechanism in place so that the only people who can comment on a post are those to whom the person who created the post is already subscribed to. That greatly reduces the number of people who can comment on a post, and it contributes to a reduction in cyberbullying.
Parent hopes that one day the data generated on social media, now private, will be available to researchers. “A young person spends an average of two hours a day on social media. Imagine if we had all the data on what teens are doing on these platforms across Québec. If we had access, it could help our research and help improve teenagers’ mental health.”
She concludes that one of the best ways to enrich a teen’s relationship with social media is to talk to the teen. “We’re all capable of talking to teens, so let them talk to us about what’s happening on social media, and ask them what they think. It’s the simplest and the least costly thing to do.”