In just a few years, news consumption in the world has changed significantly. Information overload is an offshoot of such change. The first observation from this trend is that users are exposed to a sheer amount of information. The information available does not correspond with the brain’s ability to process information leading to information overload. This disparity in the amount of information and the ability to process it produces feelings of stress and overload in many people, and possibly reduces our capacity to fully utilize relevant and important information (Cogswell, 1985). We’re inundated with negative news stories daily. Conflicts, natural disasters and other upsetting events are routinely pushed to our news feeds on social media, in newspapers and through our electronic devices. Social media affordances create a way to filter information perpetuating Lanham’s claim that productivity is the new enzyme for self-awareness.
The concept of consumption is originally borrowed from an economic standpoint. The definition varies from scholar to scholar with equally diverging views. Chatzidakis & Maclaran (2020) describes consumption as a life where fulfilment is driven by consumption of goods and services. To meet certain psychological needs, people engage in social purchasing to spend time with friends and family and build social connection. Campbell (2010) traces the history of consumerism to the expansion of needs and wants beyond food, water and shelter; the increased economic capitalization created more disposable income which encouraged luxury purchases. People began to go beyond basic needs to wants. Chatzidakis et al (2020) explains that consumption is further advanced by the perceived illusion of freedom of choice which is fundamental to the practice of a free economy.
The increase of online news, particularly when presented via social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, has affected how we access and consume our news. (Evita March, 2020). When news was delivered via traditional one-way outlets such as television and radio, we were passive receivers. But on social media platforms, we’re active consumers. We sculpt and cultivate our news through immediate feedback, such as reacts or shares.(Evita March, 2020)
Social media holds new implications for news consumption. There is an increasingly blurring line between authentic and non-authentic news stories. Social media seem to be winning as the major source of news as a research from 80,000 digital news consumers indicate they get their news from social media (“Reuters Institute Digital News Report,” 2020).
In a rapidly changing world like ours, it can be difficult to find consensus about anything other than the fact that, we are living in a stressful time. While chaos and upheaval are nothing new, the way we find out about the world, has changed. Instead of struggling to gather information, we are inundated with a ceaseless flow of news, social media and questionable facts 0(Mary, 2017). Often times we feel anxious when we hear about distressing events and have empathy for those who are affected. But, did you know that according to psychologists, negative news could aggravate our personal worries that are not even related to the content of the news story? (Sara Lindberg, 2020)
Results show increased news exposure is indeed positively associated with feeling overloaded. Conversely, news enjoyment is negatively associated with overload. There is also a moderating effect of news enjoyment, such that, high news enjoyment reduces overload effects of high news exposure. These results imply that, while news exposure may have various beneficial outcomes, such as increased political knowledge, it simultaneously relates to greater psychological discomfort. (Chance York, 2013).
Psychological research suggests that the brain is predisposed to attend to negative information. When media content makes us feel angry, scared or sad, we orient toward the disturbing story to make sure we know how to protect ourselves. (It’s that fight-or-flight response again.) The problem occurs when the threat is far removed from us, amplified by the media and out of our control, all of which can make us feel helpless or hopeless.(Mary, 2017).
Amid an unfolding crisis such as a pandemic, news presented via one-way outlets might be less damaging than news consumed online. In early months of COVID-19, researchers found news consumed online and via social media was associated with increased depression, anxiety and stress. The effects weren’t as bad when news was consumed via traditional media such as television and newspapers.(Evita March, 2020)
This isn’t limited to the pandemic. After the September 11 attacks, young people who consumed news via online sources experienced more PTSD symptoms than those using traditional media. This effect was attributed to more graphic images online, and the possibility for extra exposure as people could watch the footage repeatedly.
Multiple studies have found the more we consume news during or after a tragedy, crisis or natural disaster, the more likely we are to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Why are we so interested in bad news, anyway? University of Queensland psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and his colleagues have noted bad is stronger than good. Humans have a “negativity bias”, whereby we pay more attention to negative information than positive.
Those who use social media largely for news, instead of social networking, show increased anxiety and depression. These results highlight the importance of being strategic about how you use social media, particularly during times of crisis.
“It can be damaging to constantly be reading the news because constant exposure to negative information can impact our brain,” says Annie Miller, MSW, LCSW-C, LICSW. When we experience a threat, Miller says our brain activates the fight or flight response, and the systems in our body react accordingly.
Consuming the news can activate the sympathetic nervous system, which causes your body to release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Then, when a crisis is happening, and we are experiencing this stress response more frequently, Miller says physical symptoms may arise. Some of the most common symptoms are fatigue, anxiety, depression, and trouble sleeping.