What is a safe space?
A safe space is an environment, online or in person, in which a person or a group of people can discuss certain issues and support one another. Safe spaces provide a network of support and understanding, where people can feel confident that they will not be exposed to discrimination, judgement, harassment or any other emotional or physical harm. Safe spaces can be for anyone who wants to feel heard regarding an experience, feeling, or belief, or topics such as sex, race, or status.
Safe spaces are environments that usually have rules so people know what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. If these rules are broken, people are usually warned, removed, or blocked.
A safe space is not an echo chamber – a space where people only repeat and agree with certain ideas, patting one another on the back instead of contributing new thoughts. An echo chamber is not thought to be helpful because people are not learning anything new or expanding their perspectives.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between a safe space and an echo chamber, but the key difference is that in safe spaces you can discuss new and different ideas (even if they may not be widely accepted in society) in a non-judgmental space. Safe spaces are also used for healing, and while ideas can be discussed and debated, a safe space community will know to prioritize peer support and networking for your well-being.
How do I find a safe space online?
A safe space for you could be created by yourself or by someone else and can be maintained on social media or forums. When you find a site or platform you’re comfortable with, you can search through hashtags to find accounts that you can relate to.
You can tell if an account or online community has taken action to be a safe space when:
- They have agreed on and set clear rules for members on how conversations and posts are moderated
- The rules are rooted in a belief in the dignity, humanity and rights of all people
- The group has a clear purpose and audience that they focus on
- The moderators are active and engage with their community often
- There are content warnings for sensitive topics
- There are many different perspectives from people in the community
- Comments made in the group are supportive, not hurtful or degrading.
These are just a few things that communities online can do to help make their space safe. If you see something happening in a safe space that is against the group’s rules, tell a moderator right away. However, if you no longer feel safe in that online community, leave as soon as possible. It’s important to take care of your mental health first and foremost.
Can you have a safe space on a commercial platform?
Different social networks, forums and other platforms give you varying amounts of control over how much you can moderate what happens there. If the platform offers strong moderation tools; it is possible to make a safe space there, but platforms will sometimes change the rules. Also, be sure to check out what the platform’s policy is on advertising. Most online platforms make their money from advertising, and you don’t want to see ads that are against the values of your community.
Who needs a safe space?
Everyone at one point needs a place where they can express themselves freely. Even if you’re not engaging in a safe space online, it’s important to recognize where you can receive support in a non-judgmental environment.
While peer support in a safe space is important, it should also never take the place of professional help. It’s important to be mindful of where information comes from and to think critically if you decide to take advice from anyone online. However, safe spaces can be a big part of the healing process if you’ve ever felt lonely or oppressed. Many people participate in online safe spaces because of the sense of community and belonging they provide. The feeling of solidarity through shared experiences is something they might have difficulty finding anywhere else.
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