Do you ever find yourself feeling depressed about the state of the world? Do you ever feel scared about what might happen in the future? Perhaps about COVID-19, a potential war with China, terrorism, or climate change? Do your friends often discuss how awful things are?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, that’s probably thanks to the two main sources of information in the world today: news outlets and social media. These services require your attention to drive their revenues—and they often attract eyeballs by playing up scary stories that keep many viewers hooked. News media often does this through clickbait headlines, sensationalist talk shows, and by exaggerating the severity of events. Social media does it through algorithms that quickly learn what people react to, such as provocative headlines, and feed them more of the same.
The result is that news and social media present many of us with a negative view of the world. We all know about the horrible things that happened in 2020, but how many of us remember the great things that happened?
I recently experienced the effects of this exaggerated negativity myself. During the COVID-19 lockdowns, my girlfriend (now fiancée!) and I were separated across the Atlantic. As restrictions loosened, we made plans for her to travel to England so we could be together, but while we were planning, news sites were pumping out stories about new COVID-19 variants and possible new restrictions. One newspaper in particular, The Sun, ran regular sensational stories about how these new variants might lead to worse waves of COVID-19, how all international travel might be shut down once again, and how the COVID-19 situation might run on for years. It depressed me and made me think I’d never be with my girlfriend again. She fortunately reminded me not to buy into that kind of unreliable, sensationalist reporting. I stopped reading those articles, the shutdown they warned of never happened, and my girlfriend and I were happily reunited shortly thereafter.
David Pere, who runs the YouTube channel “Military to Millionaire,” does an excellent job of explaining how and why news media portrays the world so negatively in his video “Turn Off the News: How the Media Controls the Narrative, and Why it Is Dangerous.” He also explains how turning off the news can help you see the world in a more positive light. He points out that you won’t miss anything important by doing this—if something huge or something that directly affects you happens, you’ll still find out about it through other means. But you will cut a negative influence out of your life, freeing up your mind to focus on positive, constructive things. This doesn’t mean putting on rose-tinted spectacles, but rather removing the negative tint the news gives us.
For those of us who still want to be in the know about certain global events, Pere recommends finding more reliable news sources such as respectable newspapers. However, even many of these have their own biases, distorting how they present information. I prefer to stay in touch with events while controlling for media negativity by using Google News, which I have configured to show me subjects of interest and hide stories from sources that over-emphasize negativity in their reporting.
On the social media side, as Pere recommends, I’ve cut out certain people who spread depressing or anger-inducing content. This doesn’t mean creating an echo chamber of opinions I never disagree with, but it does mean muting or unfriending people who frequently post about how awful the world is today, why I should be angry at certain people or groups, or who generally spout unnecessary negativity.
Whether or not you want to cut off friendships completely depends on what other value those people bring to your life, but using the content filtering tools on social media sites can make your news feed much more pleasant and value-reinforcing.
For more thoughts on this, check out Pere’s great video below, and think about how you might reduce the media’s negative impact on your state of mind: