Thomas Jefferson once wrote to his daughter, “Politics is such a torment that I advise everyone I love not to mix with it.” I can only imagine what he would think if he were able to read Twitter trends now.

The border wall. DACA. The government shutdown. Trump Tower Moscow. Nathan Phillips, Covington Catholic. Ralph Northam, Justin Fairfax and Mark Herring. Jussie Smollett. Now, it’s Michael Cohen and Kim Jong Un. 

America, and maybe the world, has a news consumption problem which extends far beyond fake news. Each day on social media, we tear apart the big story of the moment, dissecting its every detail and framing it in a way that confirms our opinions. 

We gloat that the story vindicates our worldview and fume at the other side for not seeing it as we do. Then, just as quickly, we move on to the next one, never to talk or think about the last story again. The cycle repeats.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this style of news consumption is unhealthy. NBC News even ran a piece in 2017 that described “11 Ways to Combat News Anxiety.” Among them was a suggestion to delete social media apps. “Too often we open Twitter or Facebook to post a selfie or check on what a friend is up to and before we know it, we’re reading a terrifying story about North Korea,” the author wrote. 

While I take issue with her use of the word “terrifying,” her point linking social media to mental health stands.

This isn’t a problem exclusive to journalists or news consumers, or even to social media. When we hear negative news on television, we often convince ourselves that the news is worse than it is. Those aren’t my words — they’re the words of psychologists Wendy Johnston and Graham Davey.

I would go so far as to argue that negative news on social media is several times worse than news on television. We can always separate TV news from our social lives, but we can’t do the same on Twitter.

When we concern ourselves with the trending social media story, we also close ourselves off from everything else that happens around us. While we obsessed over the major stories of the last few weeks, other important news passed by with barely a mention: 

  • A disgruntled employee shot and killed five people in Aurora, Illinois, injuring six more.
  • The result of a U.S. House race was declared illegitimate due to fraud and an entirely new election will need to be held to determine the winner. 
  • Two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, appear ready to go to war after each carried out air raids against the other nation

I’m not arguing that any of these stories are necessarily more important or newsworthy than the ones we’ve all heard about. But is there any valid argument that they should have been ignored to the extent they were while other stories dominated our newsfeeds? I’m not convinced.

We need to be smarter in the way we cover news and in the way we consume it. I’m lucky to work with a group of people at The Collegian who value accuracy and honesty over being the first to report news. But none of us on staff or on campus can say we always view breaking news with a level head. 

Everyone wants news to confirm his or her biases, and that’s completely natural. It’s when we jump to conclusions and convince ourselves that we’re on the only correct side of the story that we find ourselves in trouble.

So what should be the solution? We can’t go back to a time when we got our news twice a day, nor should we. Social media allows us not only to stay in touch with friends and family but also to follow events as they occur, whether in politics, sports, weather or other news. The speed at which news spreads on social media is a blessing if we can use it correctly.

The only fix that I can think of is for each of us to take it upon ourselves to realize that the headline story of the day might not be as big of a deal as it appears. Are there exceptions? Absolutely. But chances are that the story trending on social media on Monday will be an afterthought by Friday. 

There’s so much more to life, and even to news, than the trending story. We just need to look for it.

Contact opinions writer Riley Blake at riley.blake@richmond.edu.

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