Are negative news cycles and social media injurious to our health?

I am an avid social media user, and a news junkie who watches news religiously, even when the same stories are being recycled every hour and on every major news outlet. I am a proud member of Generation X, the generation that did not grow up with the internet and read the news the old fashioned way, every morning with my parents, sharing their favorite newspapers and magazines. Several decades later, we now have multiple social media platforms and cable news networks to provide us with breaking news cycles every minute.

Are we on a news overdose? Given the current political and social climate, I would argue, not only are we over stimulated with news, a lot of it unpleasant and negative, but we are also getting affected mentally. It’s not uncommon to see an unpleasant online environment with insults being thrown at each other on social media posts that offer differing viewpoints. Why do we think it is acceptable to say mean, offensive or even racist and sexist things to complete strangers? Why are we forced to block our own friends and family members who post offensive remarks directed either at us or others?

As a health care worker, the latest COVID-19 pandemic coupled with personal health issues, has made the past several months both physically and mentally difficult. Social media was supposed to be my escapism, but instead, it has added to my hopelessness and despair at times. What should have been a way to connect with friends and family during endless lockdowns and physical and social distancing measures, has now become toxic and depressing. As human beings, we must not forget that behind every computer is another person, and before we throw out an insult, remember that feelings do not disappear just because you are using a keyboard instead of your tongue to speak to someone. We must do better.

Rabia Jalal is a physician.

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