Doomscrolling: in the grip of bad news

Ever since coronavirus dominated the news, it’s likely you’ve come across snippets of bad news no matter where you’ve looked or clicked. From more cases, new mutations to other catastrophes – bad news seems to be mounting. Looking away doesn’t seem like an option. This phenomenon is called doomscrolling. Read on to find out what it is and what you can do about it.

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Doomscrolling: a definition

The term ‘doomscrolling’ first appeared on Twitter in 2018. The neologism describes the intense or even manic consumption of negative and alarming news. Some also refer to it as ‘doomsurfing’, which describes the same phenomenon.

It refers to the flood of bad news seemingly rolling over us, which is especially true for the auto-updating news fees of social networks. Once you click on a bad news story, you discover another. This sensation of being caught in a whirlpool of bad news has been succinctly described by journalists and bloggers and analysed by scientists.

What happens in the brain during doomscrolling?

Why the feeling that bad news seemingly dominates the media is fairly easy to explain. It’s been well-established that scrolling through our news feeds appeals to our reward centre. Facebook and other social media platforms are well aware and are using this to their advantage. In the worst case, some people may develop an addiction – the fear of missing out (FOMO) is just one of several (questionable) consequences of excessive social media consumption.

Note

As our awareness of the addictive side effects of social scrolling has grown, counter-movements have arisen. The so-called joy of missing out (JOMO) describes the joy of consciously living without social media and the pressure to experience spectacular things.

With doomscrolling, however, there is a second psychological peculiarity: namely, our brain is evolutionarily wired to process and react to negative news quickly and efficiently. In the early days, this made sense because negative information usually alerted us to danger, which then could be quickly averted. This evolutionary ability is still anchored in our brains and, in combination with the algorithms of online media, leads to the phenomenon of doomscrolling.

How to avoid or reduce doomscrolling

Constant consumption of bad news paints an often exaggerated picture of the current situation and can lead to depression. In combination with so-called fake news, there’s the danger of drifting into a universe of alternative truths and becoming radicalised. As a first step, you should be aware of doomscrolling and critically question your surfing behaviour. Are you on the lookout for bad news? Do you click on every new horror story and statistic? Then it’s about time to take countermeasures. Follow these tips:

  1. Set firm time limits within which you doomscroll and browse social networks. For example, 10 to 20 minutes a day. If you find it difficult to set a limit yourself, use smartphone apps that let you limit your daily screen time and use of certain apps.
  2. Consider alternative behaviours and rewards, such as exercising, going for a walk, or reading a good book.
  3. Get friends or family on board to distract you from using your mobile phone and with whom you can talk openly in case bad news overwhelms you.
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In general, avoiding doomscrolling is about changing your habits. Because habits can become addictive, there is no remedy for doomscrolling. If you can’t find a good solution, a therapist or other expert in this area can help you to address and avoid dangers lurking on social networks.


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