Newsfeeding Our Addiction
There are danger lurking in your newsfeed, and not merely fake news. It's also an oversaturation of real news.
Much is being said about fake news, including which outlets offer reportage you can't trust, whether that's Breitbart, the New York Times, or Mother Jones (no relation).
It's good to beware of fake news, but even real news can be harmful and lead to an incorrect understanding of the world.
Race relations in America are a recent example. With every news alert about a white policeman shooting an unarmed black youth, commenters filled conversation threads with concerns of how much worse things were getting. But were they? Jack Glaser, professor at UC Berkeley, told CNN that he didn't believe so. What was changing, in his opinion?
“[Our] ability to document it and … transmit that information instantly through social media." Ah, of course ‘social media’.When I mentioned “commenters” above, where did you think they were posting those concerns?
Whenever a bad news story gets increased coverage, it seems like it's getting worse. When it gets less coverage, things seem to be getting better. And neither one is necessarily true.
Ebola was another example. The news in 2014 about the virus blooming in Western Africa - where it historically had never been - made hardly a splash in American media. But late in the year, the discussion turned to the virus reaching American borders, and the nation came unglued.
The cycle began. The more it was reported, the worse people thought it was getting. That made people watch or click on stories about it more often. Increased interest drove outlets to increase reportage. The more it was reported the worse people thought it was, etc.
Suddenly there was a need among various outlets to get eyeballs on our coverage instead of theirs. Fake news began to build about how it was liable to become airborne any moment and how it was a real-life 28 Days Later. People who didn't understand the process of blood-borne pathogen infection were easily misled.
But fake news wasn't the biggest problem. It was the blanket coverage that did the most damage. Again, the more folks saw it, the worse they thought it was getting. You can detect the saturation point of an issue or event when people start complaining, “Everywhere you look, you see…” or “Everybody's saying that….”
Which exposes the damage that constant intake of even real news can do: increased anxiety.
If every day’s news makes your anxiety spray up like a geyser, it's best to find a way to detach from it - not to stop caring, simply to stop internalizing it to the point of damaging yourself.
But if that's not working out for you yet, the next best thing is to reduce your exposure to the things that trigger your anxiety. You might need to unplug.
Some folks will balk at that, because they've become addicted to the news cycle.
“But I have to monitor the latest developments as they happen because I need to stay informed and aware of what's going on!”
I don't doubt many folks feel that way, but I would ask that they look at it in a different way.
You need to eat to survive. But imagine: what would happen if you just kept eating? If you spent all day, every day, putting food in your mouth? Eating past the point of satisfaction to where your body started to break down? And even as you began to suffer physically and mentally, even as your friends and loved ones noticed you destroying yourself with caloric suicide, you defended your decision to keep eating because you didn't want to starve. “I’m being reasonable! I have to eat to keep living!”
But is gluttony healthy? No, you have to find balance. Moderating how much you eat, as well as varying your diet to include good things rather than only junk food, help to keep you healthy.
The same thing goes for what you take into your mind. Without balancing your intake of anxiety triggers, your mind and body will begin having trouble coping. Moderating how much media you consume, in addition to varying up what you take in, can do wonders in keeping your mind healthy.
It's not enough to demand that others stop making food so available to you, like it's their fault. Expecting all fast food restaurants to change their menus or limit their hours because you can't stop eating - that's really not their fault is it?
Likewise it's pointless to complain that the news networks only serve negativity. The 24 hour news cycle will produce what people will watch or read. It's up to you and me to push ourselves away from the media table and exercise willpower to avoid the temptation to over-consume.
So if you want to feel less stressed, anxious, or depressed, it's a good strategy to examine what you're putting in your head. If the news is too depressing or ugly, you really don't have to click on story after story. Build your ability to resist the marketing of anger and misery, even if it's by taking tiny steps. You'll be amazed how better you'll feel.
After the withdrawal symptoms fade, of course. Cold turkey isn't just about sandwiches.
It's interesting that, even on David's side of the Atlantic, the problems seem just as pertinent. Does what happens in the news, fake or otherwise, impact on your own mental health? Do you look into every story for validation or just take it on its own merits? Let us know in the comments below.