The internet, as I’m sure we can all agree, can be a scary, dark, negative place. It doesn’t take 5 seconds on Facebook or Reddit to find as much antagonism as a person needs in their lifetime.
But how can you avoid internet negativity and not worry about the impact of the internet on your well-being?
What you and I take in can have a dramatic impact on the way we feel. It doesn’t even have to be something we’re directly involved in.
Have you ever read an article and by the end your heart is racing?
Or read through the comments on a YouTube video and ended up mad?
I know I have! And I hate the feeling. I’ve learned through time and practice that these stimuli are not healthy for me. I’m already anxious about money, stepkids, relationships, health, etc. I don’t need to add additional stress to that!
This is especially true for those of us with chronic illnesses. As I’ve said before, one of the worst triggers for health issues is stress!
Before I move on to what we can do about it, I’m going to take a quick pit-stop to look a bit deeper into how negativity impacts our health.
How does internet negativity impact well-being?
It starts innocently enough. Someone posts a satire article on their facebook wall. Next thing you know, you’re 16 messages deep into a conversation that you didn’t want, need, or enjoy. You’ve got adrenalin running through your body. You’re worried that you said enough…or not enough. You even feel a little guilty for engaging at all!
And all this because you opened Facebook while you were waiting for your doctor’s appointment. **Ok, I might or might not be talking about a personal experience.
But if you’re wanting something a little more than ‘Amanda’s personal opinion’, I’ve got that, too.
According to a study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, negative social interactions with family and friends are strongly related to the number of mood and anxiety disorders. If that isn’t enough, the same study says positive interactions aren’t as strongly connected to positive results as negative interactions are to negative results!
I don’t want to get too scientific up in here, but study after study has shown that higher levels of negative feelings relate very directly to various physical health concerns (strokes, dementia, decreased life expectancy, etc). Just take a quick look at Google results for “does negativity make you sick?”
There is an awesome article over at RealSimple.com about why the internet is such a negative place. You can check it out here. In it, the author quotes MIT professor Sherry Turkle as saying the following.
And let’s be honest. It’s not just social media where this happens. Any platform where people interact can turn bad. I avoid Reddit like the plague, but it’s just one of the many places where we should keep our noses down.
How to avoid negativity on the internet
So, we know negativity is bad. And we know the internet can breed negativity. But what do we do about it?
Well, I think the answer is going to be different for each person, depending on how they interact with the internet.
However, there are a few tips that I think are universal for anyone hanging out in the halls of the world wide web if they want to avoid internet negativity.
You can read more on how to protect your kids from the internet (and themselves) here.
1. Avoid your triggers.
If I’m being 100% honest with you, I usually hate the word trigger in this type of scenario. It has come to mean that ‘someone’ can’t discuss ‘something’ because it will hurt ‘someones’ feelings. However, the word does have a valid and useful meaning and can be properly applied in some circumstances. This just happens to be one of those circumstances.
This is really about knowing yourself and what makes you tick. Are there topics you just can’t handle to read about or engage with?
If you ask my husband, he’ll tell you that I. Will. Not. Discuss. Politics. Period. End of story. Because I know this about myself, I don’t search out information that causes me anxiety. CNN, Fox, NBC, whatever channel of choice, are simply not on my list of approved sites to explore.
Unfortunately, whatever topics you can’t handle are going to surround you. The internet is a wide place with varied people. They are going to discuss things that make you depressed/anxious/angry.
Knowing this, short of deciding to abstain entirely, you’re going to have to power through and skip those posts, or articles, or headlines that introduce negativity into your life.
This could be unfriending someone on Facebook. Or unfollowing an influencer on YouTube.
It might not be easy at first, but practice makes perfect. Or in my case, makes me USUALLY able to avoid conversation that I’d rather not have. Unlike today’s experience at the doctor’s office. But that’s a different story.
2. Don’t take the bait
Have you ever heard the term internet troll? If not, allow me to let Wikipedia explain.
“A troll is a person who starts quarrels or upsets people on the Internet to distract and sow discord by posting inflammatory and digressive, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into displaying emotional responses and normalizing tangential discussion, whether for the troll’s amusement or a specific gain.”
The TLDR (too long didn’t read) version is, they leave ridiculous comments in various locations with the express purpose of bringing out strong emotion.
Don’t let them get to you!
As a general rule, they are really good at what they do. They know just how to word something and just which topics to target to get the response they’re looking for. Honestly, they’re probably pretty successfully manipulative people in real life.
If their primary entertainment in life is making people feel bad, it’s pretty easy to feel sorry for them. Perhaps pity towards them instead of anger at their statements will keep you from engaging!
And in the wise words of King Solomon, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” – Proverbs 29:11
3. Filter true from un-true
The amazing thing about the internet is that anyone can say anything they want. And in today’s world, where we de-value expertise, a complete idiot’s opinion can be given the same authority as a studied intellectual.
Uneducated versus education advice aside, a large portion of the content on the internet isn’t even true.
It’s a little like Charles Spurgeon said. “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
So it can feel like a full-time job to filter out fact from fiction. There are websites that can help with this. Snopes, for example, is a great site to run articles through to check their veracity.
There are also satire websites who write intentionally inflammatory articles in the name of humor. If you ever see an article from Babylon Bee, Clickhole, The Onion, Private Eye, or Waterford Whispers, just to name a few, know that its purpose is humor, not news.
It’s a little more difficult to filter information when it’s presented as fact. Even reliable sources can provide biased or incorrect information. Your best bet, and is my preferred method, is to take everything you read on the internet with a grain of salt unless there is scientific or authoritative fact to back it up.
4. Leave platforms that are unhealthy
Some websites are just not a good fit for you and your valuable time and attention. I’m not going to say exactly what they are because it will be different for everyone.
I’m going to recommend a quick and simple exercise for you that could help pinpoint which areas of the internet you should avoid.
So, here goes: make a list of every app, website, forum and/or blog that you use at least once a week. Once you have that list, break it down into a pro/con list. In other words, list how it adds value to your life and how it subtracts peace of mind from your life.
At the end of this little list-making process, if there are platforms that take more away than they add, stop using them.
5. Comment sections = bad news
This one is pretty straight-forward. In many cases (with the exception of some very supportive online communities) comment sections are full of the worst of the internet.
Unless you know that you can read through the comment section and find positive, uplifting, and helpful information…just stay away.
6. Search out the good stuff
In case I’ve made it sound this way, I don’t think the internet is 100% bad. Obviously not, or you wouldn’t be sitting here reading this right now.
There are some amazing writers out there putting out great content on blogs. There are some truly valuable resources that can make a genuine difference in your life. I love being able to see and interact with friends on the other side of the country or world through platforms like Facebook.
It’s just a matter of finding those places that have real value. And they are definitely out there! Just don’t be afraid to move on from the bad ones to make room for the good ones.
And let’s not forget about internet shopping. Praise the Lord for 2-day free shipping and grocery store pick-up. Those things warm the heart of this dedicated introvert!
A brief summary of how to avoid internet negativity
If you’ve found that the internet can get you down, I hope you find some tips in this article that are helpful for you. If you’ve skipped to the end (or want a quick list) the 6 ways we’ve covered to avoid internet negativity are:
- Avoid topics that trigger negative emotions in you
- Don’t let internet trolls bait you
- Search out the truth and question everything you find on the internet
- Get rid of platforms that destroy your peace of mind
- Stay out of the comment section
- Look for the good and ignore the bad
There’s definitely plenty of bad to be found. But there is also good.
I guess what I’m saying is, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Avoid the bad stuff, look for the good, and you will find that you are a much happier internet user. And based on how frequently the average person uses the internet, you’ll probably find you’re a happier person in general.
Speaking of comment sections (a bit of irony)… leave a comment below and let me know where your favorite places are on the internet!
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