The first part of this article talked about the reasons behind toxic online behaviors. We also discussed why we tend to be swayed by falsehoods on the Internet. This part focuses on how we can deal with online toxicity, and the information we need to protect ourselves from disinformation.
We ended the previous article emphasizing that an exhausted overwhelmed mind would be easy to sway into believing false information. Hence, what we should first try to do is take enough breaks from Internet use.
Numerous studies have identified detrimental effects of too much gadget use and exposure to social media. These include disrupted sleep, social media envy, having fears of missing out, and blunting of focus and attention span, among others (Barr, 2020).
Moreover, a 2018 survey among 1,000 social media users in the United States aged 18 to 24 revealed that 41 percent reported feeling sad, anxious, and depressed from frequently accessing social media (Holliday, 2018).
Nearly three (29-percent) out of 10 said social media had hurt their self-esteem and made them feel insecure, while 22 percent said social media use made them feel they were missing out on a lot of things (Holliday, 2018).
The idea of disconnecting from friends and loved ones, as well as unplugging from news and updates during these extraordinary times might be uncomfortable for some. But it is because of the challenging circumstances that we need to conserve our mental energy and use it wisely; we need to be able to process information with clarity, and discern which ones are useful for our decision-making. To make room for what’s really important, we need to be able to say no to some things and even some people.
So, it is perfectly all right to avoid conversations that are toxic and demeaning. Remember that it is not always necessary to respond to provocation or bashing. Choose your battles even in the virtual world.
It is also totally fine not to view content that we might find disturbing, even if everyone has seen it. No need to keep up at the expense of our mental health.
An Antidote to Disinformation
It would also help to be empowered with a bit of media literacy in order to protect oneself from online disinformation and misinformation.
Aside from saving enough mental energy for fact-checking, it helps to be familiar with what the various forms of disinformation and misinformation online are exactly called. This is to discourage people from using “fake news” as a blanket term for lies and all other information that our biases won’t agree with.
It doesn’t make sense to describe news as fake, because essential characteristics of news include accuracy and proper context. Allowing “fake news” to be part of our vernacular would further perpetuate distrust toward legitimate press.
What we could do is to identify false information as they are. And there are seven names for them (Wardle, 2017). One is satire or parody that masquerades as news in order to entertain and call attention to current issues through humor. They are explicit in doing this so, there is no intent to fool. However, these can still misinform.
Then there is imposter content that mimics the look of legitimate news sites to gain followers, and spread false and malicious information. There are also fabricated content that are intentionally made up, have no basis in fact, and are shameless lies. Examples would be digital quote cards bearing Hollywood celebrity testimonials praising the president but upon fact-checking, these were never said. In addition to these are manipulated content such as edited photos or tampered document images that are meant to deceive the public.
Falsehoods that make use of fragments of facts are trickier to spot. These include false connection, false context, and misleading content. False connection is the use of images, headlines, and captions that are unrelated to the content. Examples of these are click bait articles. False context, meanwhile are facts or genuine material that are transposed or applied in a wrong context. An example would be uploading photos of typhoon relief distribution from 2013 and claiming that it happened in 2017.
Lastly, there is misleading content, or the use of factual information to frame an issue or an individual in a certain way. A common example is the selective use of survey results in order to generalize or make claims that a certain politician is popular, competent, or trusted by the majority.
‘Tis the Season to be ‘Info -savvy’
We need to be savvier in understanding online behavior and content. As we have seen so far, this benefits our mental health.
Moreover, now that we are down to the last 15 months before the next elections, we need to be wiser in navigating the cyberspace for news and information.
Barr, S. (2020, October 07). Six ways social media negatively affects your mental health. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/social-media-mental-health-negative-effects-depression-anxiety-addiction-memory-a8307196.html
Hill Holliday (2018). Meet the Gen Z: The Social Generation Part 1. Retrieved from https://thinking.hhcc.com/gen-z-report
Wardle, C (2017, February 16). Fake news. It’s complicated. Retrieved from https://firstdraftnews.org/latest/fake-news-complicated/
About the Author
Tricia is a news Executive Producer. She runs one of CNN Philippines’ evening primetime newscasts, News.PH Kasama si Pia Hontiveros, and recently produced a two-hour breaking news special coverage on the devastation caused by Typhoon Ulysses (Vamco).
She had an 11-year career as television reporter and anchor, first at RPN 9, and then at GMA 7. Tricia had also worked in the humanitarian sector as Communications Officer for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders).
She’s a vegetarian, painter, scuba diver, and very recently, became a fur parent.
Master’s in Psychology 2020, UP Diliman. Broadcast Journalism 2007 (cum laude), UP Diliman.