From civil unrest to pandemics and wildfires, 2020 has become a symbol of the culmination of all potential despondency, with a shadow of bleakness looming over us at all hours of the day. And a real-time log of it all is right at our fingertips.
The fastest way to get someone’s attention has always been through negativity. We are neurologically wired to pay attention to information that unsettles us. News publications have capitalized on human empathy by force-feeding us disaster after disaster to stimulate some sense of a haunted collective memory that would enrage and sadden us into action.
Social media is swamped with comparison and riddled with unrealistic expectations of how to simply exist. These expectations present themselves in physical expectations, such as body image, and expectations for our inner social activist. There is a demand, particularly in 2020 due to the pandemic and the rise of social movements worldwide, to increase social media awareness to the point where every person is required to share information to their followers or else be branded as passive consumers or complicit.
Both the pressures of social media involvement and the continuous cycle of negativity on the news inspire the opposite of the intended effect: an apathy amongst the masses. This problem is made even more problematic by the general decrease of attention and patience among social media and news consumers, resulting in shorter ‘quick to the point’ clips which viewers breeze over without developing any meaningful connection or understanding.
It seems difficult to carve a way out of this dark bubble at a time like this, but there are ways to overcome this compassion and disaster fatigue.
Firstly, there have been lots of positive outcomes of social media usage to evaluate news. A 2017 study with twenty-eight million posts about the Black Lives Matter movement on Twitter revealed that sustained engagement with a movement correlated with lower negativity and anger and helped in the development of a collective identity. The crucial element of this finding is that social media here is used to start a dialogue and become a stepping stone for further engagement. When consumers began to dedicate their time selectively and balance it with outside resources, a positive change occurred in their relationship to the news.
Secondly, for many people, seeing violence and tragedy can trigger a rapid worsening of their wellbeing and mental health. Taking the time to ‘detox’ and unplug for a short period to digest the information received in a healthy and safe environment can be beneficial.
However, this is different from ignoring information. Ignorance and avoidance are privileges that many cannot afford since the events presented on the news affect their very beings. So, it is important to be aware of what is happening, while also evaluating it on your own terms in a healthy manner. Have a conversation, read up on sources, but most importantly, keep coming back and detoxing as needed.
Finally, remember that it is not all bad news. There are many pages and sites where you can find positive news. For example, The Guardian began posting weekly positive news Instagram posts with a recount of positive changes happening all over the world. John Krasinski began his viral YouTube series Some Good News. Make the conscious effort to seek out positive news. It can take some effort at first, but once found, it can have lasting effects on your wellbeing and can be worthwhile.
Take some time every night to consider what you are grateful for, whether it be small things like a favourite song, or something more profound, like your resilience. A daily count of what you are grateful for can decrease anxiety and help you cope with stress.
At the end of the day, the ultimate message is that the amount of news we consume each day through social media or news channels is not what is most important. Rather, it is the way in which we engage with that news. Taking the time, whether it be a few minutes or a few days, to interact with the information consciously, investigating how it affects you and how you can participate with it will counter the negative effects of news overconsumption in the long run.
Too much news can be troublesome and detrimental in many ways, but it is important to stay aware and informed by discovering methods that work best for us individually.