The constant exposure to violent content through social media has led to desensitization among the youth.
Acts of violence are widely shared on various social media platforms at a constant rate. These videos, photos and news stories are easily accessible and hardly avoidable. The frequent exposure to this content has created a sense of numbness among youth which make it difficult to not only process trauma but to express empathy.
In an interview with The New York Times, Anita Gadhia-Smith, a psychologist in Washington, said living in a digitally linked world where broadcasts of violence are instantaneous and almost commonplace means many of us are becoming desensitized.
“With the frequency of shootings and terror attacks, there is a sense of anxiety that’s building in people,” she said. “A sense of vulnerability and powerlessness.”
Every time breaking news hits social media, it blows up for a few days and then everyone forgets it ever happened. There is a correlation between an idea or cause becoming extremely popular and a decline in social compassion. Once we see a news story so many times on social media, we get tired of seeing it and disregard it. We forget these are real people who are suffering and really do need the help from the community.
According to Charles Figley, director of the Traumatology Institute and a professor of social work at Tulane University, having little to no response in the face of tragedy is common.
“Much of being a human being is just bumbling around and maintaining our lives and trying to be happy and feel safe,” Figley said in an interview with The Cut. “When an event like this takes place, we ask ourselves, ‘Right now, am I safe? Are my children safe?’ And if the answer is yes, then we ignore it, or compartmentalize, or get tunnel vision.”
Social media also makes all posts look the same, so our brains have trouble differentiating between what is important and what is not. When we scroll through our news feed and see a funny video and then next a post about a school shooting, our brain does not see these posts as different. We have to remind ourselves that some things on social media are real, tragic events that need our attention. Social media displays these things as equal, which over time desensitizes us to the things that really matter.
Figley, who has worked directly in school shooting interventions, said growing accustomed to repeated violent acts is a form of adaptation, and most people become unfazed without even realizing it.
Another study conducted by the Department of Social Science at Lahore Garrison University indicates that there are two types of desensitization: emotional and cognitive. With emotional, the exposure breeds less sympathy toward the victims or injured persons of the violence. Cognitive makes us less reactive to the news of these acts. Overall, both forms of desensitization are creating levels of tolerance toward the violence in society. This acceptance then results in a population of insensitive and dismissive members of a society.
Our empathy and awareness battles against the constant exposure to violence that surrounds our lives. Avoiding the issues isn’t the answer. We need to understand that scrolling past the violence isn’t ending it.
Take time for yourself, but indulge and experience the empathy that this nonstop cycle requires.