Don’t let social media scare stories add to pandemic fears – Alastair Stewart

It would be ironic if technology was hijacked to drive us into our own rabbit holes, says Alastair Stewart

Wednesday, 16th September 2020, 6:00 pm
Covid is a ‘world war’ in its inescapable scale

Social media and the news in general has increasingly started to feel toxic. No one talks about how people are suffering from what we might dub, social shell shock.

Day in and day out there is a constant deluge of misery, upset and death. Everyone is exposed to the three Cs - Covid, Calamity and Consequence. Most young people get their news in the same social outlets as they consume their entertainment. Unless you’ve militantly cut yourself off, you’ll be reading about pop stars with Covid and movies scrapped by Covid before you even get the ‘official’ news updates about, yes, Covid.

Politics, economics, health and pop culture have become digitally intertwined. Covid is a ‘world war’ in its inescapable scale from which there is no opt-out. You’ll be told about the job losses, the cancelled cancer treatments and how things will get worse. You will feel fear, you will have sleepless nights and you will need to unpick the correct facts from the ceaseless amateur hour Chinese whispers.

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Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and public affairs consultant.

Little thought is given to how technology actually prevents ignorance. Social media is as much for business and pleasure, and now, in the most calamitous, the most unending series of disasters in our lives, it’s trapped us. Remember the heady days of funny cat memes? ‘Hoist with our own petard’, indeed.

Why is it an issue? Because Tweets are the modern-day artillery barrage. We’re in our digital trenches, stuck in our homes and all evidence points to increased restrictions. There’s a mental health catastrophe among us, and if it is spoken about, it seldom comes with coping strategies beyond the generic. We were struggling to discuss mental health before all this, and we’re still bad at discussing how we’re doing.

‘Public morale’ always seemed a vacuous phrase deployed by politicians trying to build consensus. And yet there is a palpable sense of collective mood now. The words of our leaders and the tone of a national address can incite panic or relief. The prospect of not getting a tooth treated can strike people down in terror; the callous travelling plans of friends provoke contempt.

Professional advice must be readily available and rolled out on how to tackle this. You cannot force people to speak. You can be there for one another. Think seriously about the information you consume, what you need to know and what is unintentionally harmful to your mental wellbeing.

We’re in a marathon, not a race – we all have a finite stress resistance and energy. Ration it out, think about your priorities, focus on what needs to be done in your day-to-day life. The world will surely survive if you read less of Twitter. Be aware of what’s going on, but don’t get bogged down. Learn to determine helpful updates from the superfluous; the informed from the opinionated - the necessary from the triggering.

It would be the cruellest of ironies if technology, the great unifier, was hijacked to drive us into our own rabbit holes. Speak to people, say how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking - chances are, they’ll feel the same way with the same fears and, forever and always, the same hopes.

Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and public affairs consultant. Read more from Alastair at www.agjstewart.com and follow him on Twitter @agjstewart