Social media and traumatic events

This afternoon I spent too much time on social media, stuck in horrified fascination as the events unfolded at Westminster. I say I spent too much time, I mean I read and watched and listened until I felt shocked, hopeless and anxious. Dragging myself away I found an email from a student who felt the same way and didn’t know what to do. Stop watching the news, switch off social media, go and do something that makes you feel happy, was the gist of my response. Advice that I should have heeded myself a good couple of hours ago.

Watching bad news events play out on social media and across the TV news channels can create a stress reaction if we are exposed to too much. The National Center for PTSD have an interesting article here about stress reactions following media coverage of traumatic events, and @EoinLenihan talks about it in this post on 10 Simple Ways to Manage the Toll of Social Media. Watching events via TV or social media may not feel immediately threatening since we aren’t in a physical environment that can cause us harm, but through our screens the horror of a traumatic event can play out in minute and graphic detail. The studies I have read seem inconclusive on the long-term effects of viewing traumatic events, but do seem more certain of the negative impact on people while they are watching/viewing. Problem is, I know lots of my students are always watching/viewing.

We want our young people to become responsible digital citizens, and I think that has to include a raised awareness of when to switch off. I’ve created this sheet of tips that I will be sharing with my students tomorrow and will be encouraging all of them to switch off, connect with the people they love and do something nice for someone else – which feels to me like a good plan for anyone, whether or not they have watched too much tragic news.

Social Media & Traumatic Events