Imagine this: You're in April 2020 and you're scrolling through your social media feed. You see headlines like "Death Toll Continues to Rise", "COVID-19 May Cause Long-Term Health Implications" and "Health-care Systems Overloaded" on your screen. You feel depressed, but you cannot stop scrolling.
This scenario is not unique. Research has shown that people are prone to seeking out information in uncertain times. This is a natural coping mechanism. Is persistent information-seeking via social media, often called doomscrolling or helpful during a pandemic?
More research on the negative effects of bad news on mood suggests that exposure to negative news can be detrimental to our emotional well-being. This is evident in early evidence about the negative effects of COVID news consumption upon mental distress.
One study that involved more than 6,000 Americans in March 2020 found that participants felt less happy the longer they spent reading COVID news.
These results are remarkable, but they leave some key questions unanswered. Are unhappy people more likely to doomscroll or does doomscrolling cause them to be unhappy? How much time doomscrolling can be considered a problem? What if we instead spent our time doomscrolling and "kindness scrolling" about humanity's positive responses in a global crisis?
We conducted a study in which we showed real-world content from Twitter and YouTube to hundreds of people for up to four minutes. You could find general information about COVID or news about kindness during the COVID period on Twitter and YouTube. The moods of these participants were then assessed using a questionnaire. We compared their moods to those who didn't engage with any content.
People who were exposed to general COVID news had lower moods than those who were not. People who were given COVID news stories that involved acts of kindness did not experience the same mood decline as those who were shown general COVID news. However, they didn't get the boost we had predicted.
These results suggest that even a short amount of negative news about COVID-19 may have a negative effect on our mood.
Participants who received positive news stories about acts of kindness did not experience an improvement in their moods. This could be due to the fact that these stories are still linked to COVID. Positive news stories have been shown to improve mood in other studies.
Making your social media a more positive place
Our research was published earlier in the month. Ironically, news coverage about our findings with headlines like "Just five minutes on social media can make you miserable," could be part of someone's doomscrolling content.
However, we did not find that social media usage makes everyone miserable. We found that negative information about COVID on YouTube or Twitter during a pandemic is more common than we thought.
What can we do to take care of ourselves and make social media more enjoyable?
You can also delete all of your social media accounts. According to statistics, almost half of Facebook users in the UK & the US wished to leave the platform by 2020.
It is difficult to imagine distancing ourselves from social platforms that connect almost half the world's population. This is especially true when these platforms allow for social interactions in a time where face-to-face interactions can prove risky or impossible.
Avoidance is not always possible, so here are some ways to make your social media experience more positive.
Take control of the content you share on social media. When you log in to social media, be sure to focus on your personal news and photos rather than the headlines. Find content that makes you smile to balance your newsfeed. These could include images of adorable kittens, gorgeous landscapes, delicious food videos, or even photos of beautiful cats. A social media account that shares only positive and happy news could be followed. Social media can be used to spread positivity and kindness. Positive things can make you feel happier and can help others. On social media, you might also enjoy praising others. This may sound strange, but people will appreciate it much more than you realize.
We are not suggesting you ignore all news and negativity. It is important to keep up with what is happening around the globe. But, it is important to take care of our mental health.
Our findings show that negative news continues to have an impact on our lives and our news feeds. There are ways to reduce the impact of negative news and make social media more positive.
Kathryn Buchanan is a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Essex. Gillian Sandstrom is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Essex. Lara Aknin is Distinguished Associate Professor of Psychology at Simon Fraser University. Shaaba Lotun is pursuing a PhD at the Department of Psychology.
This article was republished by The Conversation under Creative Commons. You can read the original article.