News Feed Anxiety | psychology today

Recent polls have suggested that most young people get the majority of their news from social media, rather than TV or print. Behind these headlines are some rather interesting statistics, indicating that people are increasingly saying they don’t like social media news and are trying to avoid it. Yet despite this fear and loathing, the use of digital media continues to grow. The psychology of phobias and fear suggests a plausible solution to what looks like conflicting statistics. Considerations of how our responses to fear work and how social media news feeds work suggest a perfect environment for the development and maintenance of anxiety.

Polls1.2 show that social media is now the most used medium for obtaining news by young people, that the use of other sources of information is decreasing and that these trends have been evident for several years. However, behind these numbers, polls show that people don’t like social media news (even if they use it) and many try to avoid online news. There are some other interesting trust numbers that also play into this story, but the main takeaways to keep in mind are that people use and try to avoid social media news. There are many possibilities underlying these seemingly puzzling findings. One possibility involves the nature of fear and anxiety, and has interesting psychological consequences that seem to make the use of social media increasingly likely.

Some other possibilities deserve a brief mention, just to keep them in mind. First, access to information online may be growing because people, especially young people, do not trust traditional sources of information. They don’t trust politicians (they may be right), and they trust social media influencers more (you may be pushing a point too far!). This may suggest that, for young people, social media sources are seen as the best of a bad lot. Second, people can lie and not access social media news any more than TV news – it’s always difficult to know the validity of self-reported data. Finally, surveys may have methodological shortcomings. However, let’s assume that these possibilities are not the main ones and turn to the psychological issues of anxiety, fear and disgust.

When someone becomes phobic – spiders, dogs, snakes, clowns or even shoes – a number of things happen to them. They experience heightened feelings of fear and excitement in the presence of that creature or object, and the fight or flight response is triggered. They feel a sense of cognitive discomfort in the presence of the creature or object, often related to embarrassment of what others will think of their fear. They often try to run away from the situation as quickly as possible or implement avoidance strategies allowing them not to contact the phobic subject at first. All this establishes a state of increased vigilance, or hypervigilance, vis-à-vis the situation of which the person is afraid. The phobic searches for the object, so he can get out quickly before fear takes over. Have you ever noticed how a spider phobic spots a spider in a room in a microsecond, while others blithely carry on without noticing?

Now think about all of this in relation to the use of social media news, and we can construct an explanation for the two divergent results: 1) that people look at social media news more; but 2) they hate him more. We can easily see how a fear of the news could develop. World news is catastrophically bad (wars, pestilence, economic decline, political incompetence and corruption, poverty and famine), so it’s no wonder people are scared and unsure what will happen to them next. Their own good news often pales in comparison unless they’re focused on it, which might help explain some of the overly positive self-presentation on social media.

Bad news can also be preferably spread by social media companies. Bad news grips people, like an oncoming train, so they read it more easily. The more this kind of bad news is accessed, the more the algorithm will spread it in the future. Young people often think there is no point in getting their information elsewhere, as they may not trust mainstream media or politicians. All of this drives people back to the aversive source of social media news, where they get more and more bad news, and they are increasingly diverted to that source, like rats to a box in which they have been several times. shocked.

Aversion leads to avoidance, and part of the avoidance strategy is hypervigilance. Otherwise, how do you know what awaits you? People who worry about social media news are on the lookout for the very thing they’re afraid of, like sweeping the room for that lurking arachnid you know is about to run over you. Paradoxically, the avoidance strategy that phobics have developed now pushes them to seek out the very thing they want to avoid. This can be compounded because people may feel they have no viable or trustworthy option other than social media.

Thus, the news of social media fuels anxiety, which then fuels its use. Undoubtedly, social media companies have thought about it, as it largely works to their advantage. The more anxious people are about social media and the more stories of mainstream media and political corruption abound, the more people will use social media and the more anxious they will be. However, this is not all a necessary, set pattern – people don’t have to become phobic of clowns, even though they can be a bit scary. Recognizing the drivers of behavior, focusing on the positives that are meaningful to themselves, and knowing how social media works will all help reduce anxiety and enable people to use these resources in positive ways.

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