As someone who falls asleep while scrolling through Twitter only to start off the next morning the exact same way, it didn’t take long after the coronavirus pandemic hit to overdose on bad news and spiral my way into a 40-minute sit-down shower. Twitter, Facebook, conversations with each friend group on Zoom — everywhere I turned there was talk of extended quarantines, lack of testing and people acting out in the worst ways imaginable.
I did have one respite, though: my family’s group text. There were brief mentions of quarantine from time to time, but for the most part, the thread consisted of updates on my nieces and nephew, gambling on the due date of nephew No. 2 and failed attempts at scheduling a family Zoom. In a very small but important way, it felt like being home — and safe.
But not for long. Eventually, the news got to them, too, and our group chat overflowed with the kind of headlines that only thrive on Facebook, accompanied with links to sites like coronavirusnaturesciencecrystals.com.
After spiraling my way into another 40-minute sit-down shower, I not-so-politely requested that we keep news out of the family group chat, and then immediately felt bad about doing so. On one hand, the gesture of wanting to share a link, meme or bit of news with someone else is mostly a gesture of love. On the other, Yeah, we’ve seen the news, it’s freaking everywhere.
Thus, the question that continues to nag at me: Is there any way to exert control over our digital spaces without coming off as an authoritarian jerk?
According to Tanya Goodin, a “digital detox evangelist” and founder of the website Time to Log Off, the trick is to find a middle ground. “Agree who your top three news sources are, and resolve to only check those, then delete and block other websites not on your list,” she says. “Your Facebook News Feed should definitely not be one of your trusted sources.”
From there, the best you can do is hold the line. “Bullying your friends and family about the links they send doesn’t get you anywhere,” Goodin tells me. “So the only real way to do this is to set firm boundaries and lead by example.”
In practical terms, this means making sure you’re only circulating posts from your trusted sources and ignoring links and news stories sent to you from any other ones. “The best thing here isn’t to react to memes and fake news and to only send information yourself from sources you trust,” Goodin explains. “Sooner or later, those in your circle will realize you can’t be relied upon to react or forward on anything more sensational, and it will slowly stop coming your way.”
If there’s a repeat offender, you may have to ignore them for a while, too, and though that might seem passive aggressive, “none of us needs to contribute to making anyone else feel bad in the current climate,” Goodin reasons.
That said, it’s still important to discuss what’s happening in the world as a group — so long as, again, that discussion is based on facts. “We can all create tiny ripples that push against a tide of misinformation,” Goodin says.
She also suggests balancing out bad news with good news. “Make sure at the end of the pandemic that you’re remembered as the one who consistently spread stories showing how this time brought out the best in people, rather than the worst,” she tells me. “Not only will this help everyone else around you feel more positive, but it can make you feel pretty good, too.”
It certainly beats a long, sad, tear-filled shower.