In my first post, I commented on Simon Sinek’s remark regarding the prevalence of depression among millennials, and how this is related to how social media takes over their lives. While compulsive Internet use presents itself with a wide range of psychological consequences, I would like to consider that the problem may lay in the kind of content we are forced to engage with, rather than the amount of time we spend online.
Whereas news organisations used to present us with ‘bad news’ only once a day (or perhaps twice, if you subscribed to the evening paper), we are now constantly bombarded with bad news every time we enter a digital space. Media outlets are under immense pressure to constantly produce content with grabs their digital audiences’ attention. Often, it is the macabre news that gets the most impressions and the media may use sensationalised news and the most emotionally manipulating imagery to capitalise on this engagement.
How does it affect our mental health?
Being constantly exposed to cases of political corruption, social injustices, violence and natural disasters through media websites and social media can make remaining positive about our world a Herculean attempt. In fact, some psychologists believe that constantly consuming bad news causes long-lasting problems on our mental health. We may not cognitively process what we see online as imminent danger, but we do internalise the content as negative stimuli. This effects the way we generally view the world. According to The Huffington Post, the exposure could lead to a subconsciously inclination to pay attention to bad news. It could also result in people perceiving news (even when it is considered to be neutral) as more negative than it is. Too much pessimism could in turn lead to fear, which could manifest into rash, uninformed – even problematic – decisions.
This exposure could also lead to compassion fatigue or sensitatisation, where a person’s sensitivity to the distress of others increases. This affects their ability to stay optimistic, especially when they feel that they cannot help those directly affected by the ‘bad news’ they see. While much exposure may not motivate us to help either. Too much exposure to violence may lead to viewers becoming desensitised and less sympathetic to the pain of others.
However, the consequences do not only stop with infecting us with general pessimism. Constantly being exposed to horrific online content could lead to or increase the effects of stress, anxiety, depression and /or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for individuals who are predisposed to these conditions.
So what’s the solution?
In today’s society, it is incredibly difficult to unplug from the the unsolicited negative content that pops up on our news feeds. Simply turning your laptops, tablets and cellphones off is not always the realistic solution. Social media platforms cannot censor this kind of content, nor its sheer volume, for us.
Our best hope is to self-assess the affect the news have on us, balance the kind of content we actively follow and seek professional advice if necessary. It is important to realise that it is the media is far more likely to report on the abnormal or the extreme, as this is what cultivates attention. It does not mean there is no good in the world. Try to follow inspiring websites, blogs or media platforms to help you regain your confidence in the world.