Social media loves secrets. But as the popularity (and subsequent decline) of virtual platforms like Whisper, Secret, Yik Yak and other anonymous secret-sharing portals have proved, the cloak of anonymity online has only enabled bullying, obscenity and abuse.
This appears to be changing on Snapchat. Since August, a Snapchat handle called @TheArtidote has been curating pictorial confessions from across the world. From revelations of rape, depression, anxiety and self-harm to stories of hope, surprise, perseverance and strength, a large percentage of the submissions to the handle are from South Asian cities such as Mumbai, Bengaluru, Karachi and Colombo.
Collating these revelations for the Snapchat handle is a young man from Mexico called Jovanny Varela-Ferreyra, who currently works as a curator in Munich, Germany.
Typically, Varela-Ferreyra receives a snap a minute from users across the world. That's a lot a lot of correspondence to go through: 1,440 snaps on an average day.
“Unfortunately for submitters, and perhaps fortunately for me, Snapchat doesn’t save all the snaps that get sent in – only the previous 30 minutes worth of submissions after every time I log into the app,” he said.
“From the ones I do get to see, the screening process follows the same screening process as the artwork/literature that I curate – if it moves me, I share it. And what moves me tends to be that which I find vulnerably honest and/or valuable information and/or mind expanding thoughts that enhance our personal lives and our relationships with others.”.
With a fan following of close to a million users, 29-year-old Varela-Ferreyra also runs the popular Facebook page, The Artidote, which curates inspirational artwork and text aimed to "heal through art" – an antidote to coping through life with art.
The Artidote’s Snapchat channel often receives painfully honest confessions. When Varela-Ferreyra shares these, Snapchat users sitting across borders come together in support. Recently, despite India and Pakistan's border tensions, Artidote subscribers from both countries have been bonding over the shared sorrows of war on Snapchat.
“People who believed to be alone in their struggle suddenly realise that it is not the case when they see themselves reflected in these stories, even if it comes from someone a different timezone and culture away,” Varela-Ferreyra said.
Of late, Varela-Ferreira has been focusing on mental health as a consistent theme, posting a message that says "Mental Health over Everything", after every set of user-submitted confessions.
“It serves as a reminder – and my core belief – that there is nothing more important than our mental health,” he said. “Mental illness is still, tragically, a taboo in most societies and the fact that its not openly talked about and expressed ends up hurting the victims even more – sometimes fatally.”
Varela-Ferreyra began to run the Artidote’s Snapchat handle in May 2015. He believes that if used properly, social media can bring about connection and healing through the bonding characteristics inherent in storytelling.
Varela-Ferreyra frequently receives messages from people thanking him for the Artidote's Snapchat channel, whose posts have helped people overcome isolation, and suicidal tendencies.
“These messages were the defining moment,” Varela-Ferreyra said. “It was then that I realised that despite the bad press that social media often receives for being a distraction in our lives, it could also be used as a powerful tool of communication – just as art.”