You just finished your work for the day. You crawl into bed and decide to quickly check your social media apps before going to sleep. You open Twitter, see some terrible news, and need to know more. You start scrolling, feeling worse with each ‘like’ and — oh my god, it’s been three hours. Sound familiar? You might be falling victim to doom scrolling.
What is doom scrolling? Dr. Bree McEwan, a professor in DePaul’s Communication Studies department, describes it as “continuously scrolling through your social media apps to find out the news of the day, but just feeling worse and worse, as the news is not great.”
Ben Epstein, an associate professor in the Political Science department who specializes in political communication, says that social media sites are designed to make us feel strong emotions because it makes us want to spend more time scrolling on them.
“Facebook has been shown to have done experiments on affecting their users’ emotions positively or negatively without their knowledge,” Epstein said. “The point being that emotion drives continued use, even if that emotion is dread or fear or sadness. It can still keep us connected and sharing content and thus doom scrolling works because of the psychological and technological components of social media working together.”
But why is doom scrolling something that is so persistent today?
“With coronavirus, economic uncertainty, and civil unrest, these are very uncertain times both at a societal level and an individual level.” McEwan said. She says that opening Twitter and scrolling through is a way to help manage that uncertainty, but because the news is generally negative, it brings that sense of “doom.”
“We’re living in very uncertain times where people are losing opportunities, experiences, jobs, loved ones and perhaps their lives,” McEwan said. “It seems to me that it’s not unusual that bringing ourselves news and information about the world is not a very pleasant experience at the moment.”
Dr. Jeff Gross, an associate professor of English also teaching in American Studies, said that one reason is to feel more connected with other people during a time when that’s not easy.
“It’s not so much that I go to Twitter to find out the news, I’m going there first to see if like, are other people reacting to this public health crisis, this chaotic presidency, to whatever’s happening, the same way I am,” Gross said.
If you find yourself falling into this pattern, you shouldn’t feel bad for doing it.
“It’s not an individual failing for using social media, it’s a reflection of the current state of the world that is brought to us through social media,” McEwan said.
If you want to try to stop, though, here are some ways you can try to break out of the pattern.
Set a timer
If you are the type of person, like thousands of others, that can lose track of time scrolling through a Twitter topic, setting an alarm or limiting the time allowed on each app in your phone’s settings might help you to snap out of it.
Limit where you get your news
“Being informed is important,” Gross said. “In the morning or a few times throughout the day, I’ll check the New York Times or Washington Post app. I like to try to find ways of staying informed that are more constructive.”
Seek good news to even out the bad
Several news sources, like Today, HuffPost, and Fox have dedicated sections for their good news. There is even a news site called Good News Network where that is all they do. If you want somewhere less formal, you could even try Reddit’s r/UpliftingNews.
After months of living through what many love to call “uncertain times,” it’s understandable that we want to know what’s going on as best we can. Being informed, while necessary, can be stressful nowadays. Just remember to take care of yourself while doing it.