Social Media & Violence

Our news cycle is officially never-ending. Before the internet, we read our daily papers, watched our daily news shows, tut-tutted and fretted about wars and crises thousands of miles away, and then went on with the rest of our lives. The violence in another country, or even another American city, no matter how horrible, rarely intruded in any meaningful way while we sat watching our children playing baseball or settled down for bed with a good book.

Social media – like the kind you are soaking in at this moment – has changed all of that. Brutal and often gruesome images of terror strikes in Dallas or Orlando or points further east spool through our newsfeed interspersed among shots of our sister's picnic and our cousins' puppies. The terrible news and images aren't relegated to confined situations and times, like our “morning newspaper” or “evening news hour.” It is relentless, following us to the gym, our daughters' soccer games, and even to bed in the moments before we sleep.

Fuyuki Kurasawa, an associate professor specializing in global digital citizenship at York University in Toronto, believes having an unblinking eye on these often violent events through our smartphones and tablets can have distinct emotional and psychological implications.

"What happens is that we have a very different relationship to news and to personal events when they emerge out of the use of these devices," Kurasawa told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. "Instantly we get information that we may or may not want, that we may or may not be prepared [for], and that's coming at us with such speed and such quantity that it can become quite overwhelming."

Kurasawa suggests taking the following steps while watching news unfold on social media:

  • Be skeptical of the information that first emerges
  • Be selective with what you view and what you share with others
  • Go back and check on what new information has emerged later in the day to "actually sort out accuracy from inaccuracy."
  • Seek out "trusted" sources of information

Rena Bivens, assistant professor of communication at Carleton University, told the CBC that people had an often misguided notion about the level of control they had over their what appeared in their social media feeds.

“On social media, we think we're hearing the whole conversation but we're not," she said.

Both Kurasawa and Bivens both agree that we need to make a point of “stepping away” from our feeds on a regular basis.

"It's important to notice when the violence of events around us is weighing on us too much," Bivens said. "We can take care of ourselves by logging off or temporarily deleting our social media apps, or at least hiding them in a folder for a little while."