Staying in the Loop: I Need to Watch the News

By Megan Huws

Without a general understanding of the current news, many people will feel out of the loop, unable to contribute to conversations and debates without feeling out of depth and uneducated. With such easy access to information about current events and issues, it seems selfish to not be burdened with the issues of the world around you. Not understanding the recent struggles of certain refugees, or how particular animals are suffering due to global warming can be seen as a conscious choice to be selfish and dismiss these important issues. This pressure upon the public to have opinions on, and feel emotions towards, every world issue can be emotionally draining and places far too much pressure upon the individual.

As Johnston and Davey investigated in their study, “Not only are [television] programmes likely to adversely affect mood, but they are also likely to exacerbate an individual’s personal worries and anxieties.” We not only feel sad and stressed because of the news stories themselves, but they also can worsen worries and anxieties of our own. Even in 1997, when this study took place, there was an understanding that negative news stories had a psychological effect on those watching the news.

Since then, the way we access the news has changed and developed. Instead of sitting down to watch or read the news, the news is constantly pushed in our faces through our many devices, from news notifications whilst we work on laptops, to posts infiltrating our regular scrolls through social media. It is now even harder to escape the negative news, furthering the inescapable feeling of doom and anxiety.

A prime example of this would be during the lockdowns for COVID-19, as it felt as if every time you looked at your phone, there were more hospitalisations and deaths, not to forget the Black Lives Matter movement, wars, elections, and the climate emergency. Our constant access to the news left people feeling overwhelmed.

The pandemic and the lockdown also marked a change in the way in which young people accessed the news. TikTok moved from an app which was mostly filled with videos of dancing and comedic videos to also providing the user with valuable news and information from a variety of sources. Large companies and organisations, such as WHO and Sky News took advantage of the demand for informational videos on TikTok, with many others slowly joining as well. As Katarzyna Kopecka-Piech investigates, the “presence of the WHO account, as a specialised global organisation, proves that TikTok may be a friendly environment for providing reliable health information and educating society”.

Whilst this adaption of news and current events onto short videos for TikTok gives the younger generation access to news in a way which they understand, this introduction of news to an app which previously was focused on entertainment may worsen the inescapability of the negative news.

The carefully designed system that TikTok relies on is the personal explore page, called the For You Page, in which the complex algorithm picks out videos for the specific user. This means that a user can go from watching a cute video of a cat to an emotional video of a Ukrainian refugee in under a minute. The news videos on TikTok create the same amount and type of worries and anxiety that a more conventional news article or television programme might create, yet these emotions are condensed into the 30 seconds before you swipe to the next video.

Whilst the integration of news onto social media allows for the younger generations to have access to important news and stay informed about the world around them, it also corrupts the space where they go to escape. The constant emphasis on the negative news and the expectation to stay informed creates inescapable worries and anxieties for the users.

People should have easy access to news and information, yet people have the right to use social media as a distraction and distance themselves from the constant onslaught of negative news.