No news is bad news for all of us, Meta

Yes, social media causes emotional whiplash, but for many, it’s the only way to stay informed about the issues that matter .

It is no secret that traditional news outlets are struggling: every few weeks, respected publications announce redundancies, cuts and closures. Partly, this is because social media has become many people’s primary source of news. Teenagers and more and more adults are using TikTok, while millennials are turning to Instagram after Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter (X).

This has made logging into social media particularly jarring over the past months. If I open Instagram, this is what I see: a blurred video from Gaza marked as “graphic content”; a porcupine eating an apple; news that a teenage trans girl was stabbed 14 times at a roller disco; an escalator full of men carrying golden retrievers; mosques turned to rubble. This level of emotional whiplash is exhausting and bewildering; we don’t yet understand its long-term psychological impact.

These platforms are also not specifically designed with the aim of providing accurate and balanced information. This is the reason that Meta, parent company of Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp and Threads, gave for its announcement last week that it would no longer proactively recommend political content (ostensibly to halt the spread of misinformation ahead of the US election). Meanwhile, it has been accused by Human Rights Watch of censoring pro-Palestinian content on a global scale, an accusation Meta denies. In addition, the fact that at least 88 journalists and media workers have been killed in Gaza since 7 October means that social media plays an important role in disseminating information.

If political content becomes less prominent on social media there will be fewer ways for the public to stay informed. Rather than suppressing information, they should be providing better fact-checking tools. More people are avoiding the news entirely. But, as difficult as it may be, now more than ever we need to bear witness to what is happening.

Give up giving up

Arms holding up glasses of champagne.
A last toast to the new year before ‘the peculiar torture of dry January’. Photograph: franckreporter/Getty Images

Like Middlemarch’s Dorothea Brooke, who “enjoyed [horse riding] in a pagan sensuous way, and always looked forward to renouncing it”, Brits love performatively giving things up. First it’s Stoptober (smoking), Movember (shaving), No Nut November (masturbation), a brief respite for Christmas in which everyone goes collectively insane, Veganuary (animal products), the peculiar torture of Dry January (alcohol), two weeks of tentatively allowing yourself pleasure again, and then it’s 40 days of Lent (any other vices).

I grew up in Italy, land of the Mediterranean diet and a little bit of wine with every meal, and such shows of self-flagellation feel grandiose and ultimately self-defeating. I am all for self-improvement, but it seems preferable to me to do the sinning anyway – ideally in moderation – then feel enough low-level Catholic guilt that you consider it atoned.

If you must, pick one vice you want to tackle and do it properly for Lent. But winter in the UK is already bleak enough – there is no need to punish yourself all the way through it as well.

Swift exit

Taylor Swift points toward the camera, with a microphone to her mouth.
The woman needs a holiday: Taylor Swift’s Eras tour hit Melbourne on 16 February 2024. Photograph: Joel Carrett/EPA

First of all: I am a Swiftie – she is a consummate storyteller who can evoke a wellspring of emotion from just a few details and a killer bridge.

But even for me, there is too much Taylor Swift in the news these days. Whether it’s her record-smashing Eras tour, her Time person of the year cover, her boyfriend winning the Super Bowl, Donald Trump saying deranged things about her, her private jet use, etc, I see her name on my phone before I’ve stepped out of bed most days.

Let the woman go on holiday, somewhere quiet and away from cameras and journalists. If we don’t hear about her for two weeks, the music industry and capitalism itself won’t collapse (probably).

Source: The Guardian

  • Kathryn Bromwich is a commissioning editor and writer on the Observer New Review
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