Social media is a vessel that people use to connect with others and share their thoughts, beliefs, and opinions. Through social media, people can view events throughout the world in real-time as they happen. Of course, this can be extremely beneficial. Through social media, crucial information can be shared instantly, and people have the opportunity to befriend and support people all over the world. However, there are drawbacks to constant exposure to negative information. Think back to your last time on social media, whether you were scrolling through Facebook or checking your email, I am 100% certain that you came across something negative. COVID, the war in the Ukraine, racism, it would be an understatement to say that there are some really bad things happening in the world right now. But, as we view images, like comments, and watch videos, do these very real issues begin to lose their meaning to us? Do we start to simply see the news as more content to share? Are we being desensitized?
What is desensitization?
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “Desensitization” means, “to make emotionally insensitive or callous […] specifically: to extinguish an emotional response (as of fear, anxiety, or guilt) to stimuli that formerly induced it” (view the Merriam-Webster definition here). Put simply, desensitization means that people stop responding to things in the way they are supposed to. Desensitization generally occurs through exposure. Consider the following scenario: a house is being built in the plot next-door to your house. At first, the constant noise of the construction vehicles gets on your nerves. You become irritated, and you have trouble focusing. However, after a week of the noise, you barely notice it anymore. Many people worry that constant exposure to violence and other negativity on social media is building up our acceptance for these issues to the point that we do not care about them as strongly as we should.
What do the experts think?
According to the article, Media Violence, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “Research has associated exposure to media violence with a variety of physical and mental health problems for children and adolescents, including aggressive and violent behavior, bullying, desensitization to violence, fear, depression, nightmares, and sleep disturbances”. Therefore, desensitization caused by media is not just a theory, it is a real concern being faced by society. If you would like to read, Media Violence, you can access it here. This article published by the AAP explored violent media as it relates to children, but adults are vulnerable to the effects as well, especially if they are constantly coming across negative content. In an article by Katie Rogers published by the New York Times titled, “What Is a Constant Cycle of Media Violence Doing to Us?” She quotes psychologist, Anita Ghadia-Smith, who answers the question with, “There is a sense of anxiety that’s building in people […] There is a heightened alarm, but there can also be some desensitization that’s happening […] The constant stream of news on social media can also be traumatic”.
Looking to the future:
So, social media does have the power to desensitize us by presenting us with plenty of negative news. However, there are things we can do to help ourselves remain empathetic to the people who are suffering. First of all, when you come across a piece of negative news, take the time to truly think about it. Don’t just like it, share it, and move on, take the time to put yourself in the position that those people are facing. You can also use social media as a powerful tool to help you support others. Social media can be used to fundraise for worthy causes, connect others to receive or give support, etc. How do you believe we can use social media for good?