How can we limit our exposure to social media negativity?

Did you know that doomscrolling was in the dictionary now? It makes sense. In the early part of the pandemic, even the most sensible people I know were doing things like leaving the Guardian Live page of COVID doom open and frantically checking on it the second the browser tab reads [1] or checking the Twitter trends to see what the latest alerts were.

While it’s true that we have interesting psychological and sociological reasons for doomscrolling (like practising “evolved coping mechanisms”), it can become addicting. Even before it gets to that stage, it can harm our mental wellness.

I don’t think many of us set out to doomscroll anyway.

I write crisis simulations for Polpeo. When I’m researching a topic, I deep dive into the topic to see what the people of social media are really saying about a subject. It’s…not pleasant. I end up reading a seemingly endless stream of people being the worst version of themselves. It can get to be too much.

What can we do to combat the effect that negative social media content has on us – especially when we have to use social for work?

1. Be aware of what you can and cannot influence and control

We can’t control how other people will react to something. But we can control our response and establish boundaries.

On social media, that may mean muting, soft blocking (blocking and then unblocking someone to stop them following you) or blocking an account.

You could also mute certain phrases, names or hashtags temporarily or forever – especially if you’ve been assigned the role of ‘social shaming storm spectator’. (It won’t block everything though, sometimes people will type “B*r*s” instead of “Boris”, for example, to get around the tricky issue of a person or brand name searching and replying to their criticism.)

There doesn’t have to be a good reason for you to mute or block an account – you’re allowed to set boundaries about what you see in your timeline.

2. Don’t feed the algorithm

It can feel like social networks thrive on negativity.

But, why would they want to put out the toxic trash fire when people love chucking fuel on it so much?

As much as we may want to quote tweet a ‘bad take’ and do our best to shame the original poster with our wit, we’re giving their opinion a platform and introducing them to new followers. We’re giving them legitimacy in the eyes of the algorithm.

Liking and commenting on a negative post – or the replies to it – also tells the platform, “more of this please!”

The trouble is, of course, we’re probably seeing the content in the first place because it stimulates an emotional response. When we get angry, upset or outraged, it can be hard not to wade into the debate.

3. Take a break (or channel your inner leo)

One way to combat the negativity of social media is to…not go on social media. Sometimes I check Twitter after a day away from it and find a charred social landscape with survivors of the latest battles still slightly singed at the edges.

Sometimes a longer break might be called for (let everyone know you’re going on a break, though; people will worry about you!). It may be a good idea to do this if you’re already feeling a bit low – that’s often when I get swept up in the latest controversy, and it never really helps.

Or you can do what I do sometimes and channel your inner Leo by staying on your personal feed for a while and focusing on posting your content (and maybe interacting with a few people who tend to avoid too much drama or negativity).

4. Post and share positive things when you can

Of course, we want to avoid toxic positivity – where you sort of sit there with your fingers in your ears chanting “lalalala everything is fine” while the world burns around you. Sometimes things do suck. Sometimes you need to vent. And sometimes there are important issues that need to campaigned about and discussed. Pretending everything is perfect isn’t the way to go.

I do think it’s worth remembering to post things when you’re happy though. Like customer service feedback, sometimes we forget to share the positive stuff.

Things like videos of your pets, photos of beautiful views during your walk or sharing your favourite music.

Another thing to consider is the sort of replies you post to people.

One thing I see quite often is someone sharing their excitement over, say, having some time to watch their favourite film, and you’ll see someone reply telling them that actually, that movie’s rubbish. Got to be honest – I’m still not sure why people would feel the need to do that.

Then there’s explaining things to people who’ve not asked for your help. That can be extremely draining (she writes, speaking from experience).

We all know that social media can be a great force for positive change and a fun, engaging experience. But, somehow, it manages to do this at the same time as being a hostile and anxiety-inducing place.

It can be addictive – it’s usually designed to be addictive – but we’re ultimately still in control of when and how we use social media (and if we decide to try and make the social experience a better one for our presence).

Photo by Julian Hochgesang on Unsplash

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Avoiding groupthink

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