Overcoming violent news on social media that can result in trauma.
Nobody likes to hear sad or distressing news, and given the choice, I’m sure a lot of people would go out of their way to avoid it at times. But in the online space that is social media, sometimes hearing hard or even outright traumatic news can be as easy as a few turns of the scroll wheel. So the question then becomes; how does the average person avoid seeing those kinds of things when looking for their daily cat pictures and updates from friends?
The first thing to explore is why traumatic topics are so prevalent online. A lot of it has to do with the simple fact that social media is a global entity. The six o’clock news might give you the same information, but by then it could be horribly out of date or so heavily edited that the truth and what’s shown barely resemble each other anymore. Social media puts that power into people’s pockets. With a flick of the thumb you could be reading a heart-wrenching plea for help from the mother of an earthquake victim; or see photos of poor souls suffering constant abuse. Social media is so powerful because it can bring to light so much tragedy and give a voice to the voiceless. It also allows those with the power to help to find new methods of assistance. The right link to an earthquake relief fund at the right point on someone’s dashboard and suddenly a shipment of food and clean water has reached people who could desperately need it.
But on the other side of the scale, social media has the power to inflict that trauma back onto others. Because facebook, tumblr, instagram and a few others are inherently visual, they can give those of us with visual-based phobias or even PTSD some serious difficulty. That kind of content does, unfortunately, turn the social media sites into potentially torturous ventures for the afflicted.
In recent years, there has been a push on some sites to provide solutions to the stresses people with triggers face. The most uplifting thing about it is that they are rarely instituted by the staff of the website itself, but rather the greater community. For tumblr, a man going by the name of xkit developed a way to ‘blacklist’ certain tags; meaning that if a user had a fear of, say; clowns, any post tagged as #clown or some variation thereof would appear completely blank. Facebook, on the other hand, was the recipient of a rather strange google add-on called Unbaby.me. It was originally designed for people who hated seeing photos of babies or children on their first day of school. It works by scanning your dashboard for certain key phrases, and then replacing the entire post with a picture of something completely different, the default being a cute kitten. But it has since become a way of blacklisting traumatic things. Using the same example; someone suffering from a fear of clowns would simply instruct Unbaby.me to search for phrases like clown, circus, joker etc, and even advertisements for circuses would vanish from their facebook experience.
Sometimes it’s only small things like that, but it can mean a whole lot to the right person. But it needs to go even further. Sometimes people rarely tag their posts on tumblr, or an Unbaby.me user might not be able to think of every single key-phrase that might be applicable. It has to come down to the websites themselves. There needs to be ways of filtering that content for people without invading their privacy. But that’s not saying that traumatic posts should never be online, it’s often very important to bring them to public attention. The point is for everyone to have a safe time browsing social media. Because trauma, sadness and pain are already all around us in the world, we don’t need to add it to those who are already suffering.