It doesn't take much to ruin someone's day when you hear about all the bad things that are happening to good people. But why is learning of such news so addicting?

How it's going

The abundance of bad news on social media has allowed us a constant stream of day-ruining content, and I'm curious why all the average self-proclaimed "empaths" haven't wilted at the mere words of "BREAKING NEWS". Jokes aside, I do believe the general sentiment of 24/7 news will become increasingly negative with the way things are going.

With mental illness on the rise and depression increasing by 25% in the last year, we have reached a point where pessimism can now be a familiar feeling among most people we know (hopefully not everyone). After going through a global pandemic and being faced with a potential world war not too far in the distance, the last two years have taken away countless people's last shreds of optimism.

We've never been in the presence of such catastrophic trends before (Yes, I know you can argue black death and other historical conflicts). War, corruption and murder have always been a part of our nature, so I'm sure it isn't going away anytime soon. There won't be one fix-all solution to our problems. But where we can make a start is how we react to our current situation and all future tragedies. Because that's all it is in the end: where we are as a species now is the sum of all our reactions to the challenge of our progression. We are currently involved in the creation of our dystopia.

I'd like to believe that most people know or have at least some idea of how wrong the world currently is. I do not doubt that those more on the morally sensitive side are concerned about how our priorities have broken down. After two shitty years, this sentiment of concern has now fully broken into mainstream thought and now manifests through various online communities.

Phone news, no news, bad news.

Everyone loves a good sook, right? As an Australian, I'm pretty sure it's my right to have at least one sook a day. (For you non-Aussies, to sook is complaining and getting mad over something). It's one of the few pleasures that strangers on the street can connect to over idle chit-chat. This occasional pleasure is at least tolerable for me. This one interaction is now what an entire community can be based on. Imagine a whole online platform commenting on societal collapse and impending planetary doom. Reading through content like that is much to carry throughout the day.

Social media platforms and digital news sources are now the leading way to witness the steps we continue to make towards our potential undoing. On the internet, being able to post anonymously offers the protection some need to express their opinion without damaging their reputation confidently. The line between our digital persona and our real life is becoming blurred; our opinions have become a form of identity.

Doomscrolling and r/Collapse

Reddit's "r/Collapse" contains opinions and feelings from people in all avenues of life. No one there has to experience the wrongs that the natural oppressed face directly. It isn't necessarily required to have an educated opinion on the matter. The board moderators carry out quality control, but the general sentiment, no matter how informed, requires a potentially warped sense of pessimism. Yes, the world is going to shit, but I think stewing in misery because of it isn't exactly healthy.

Reddit posts aside, I believe most people are just searching for an answer to all the chaos. They have to sort the wheat from the chaff. The quality discussion that does explain the bleak reality of everything going down the drain does have value in its own right. By bringing awareness to injustice and what we are doing wrong, it can guide those who have the power to change our fate.

Admittedly for a time, I was one of those readers who were exposed to that sudden awareness. There was always a feeling that things weren't exactly right and the source of frustration from the idealist in me became clear. Jumping from one life-denying opinion to the next, I was addicted to the perspective it offered.

Doomscrolling: the activity of spending a lot of time looking at your phone or computer and reading bad or negative news stories

As of 2022, there is now an Oxford dictionary definition for the activity I got sucked into. Doomscrolling offers a sense of being informed and urges readers to constantly seek that mythical golden nugget of knowledge that would somehow explain the world's injustices. It would get so time-consuming that, at one point, I could spend a whole weekend just absorbing information about our demise.

Doomscrolling to be "informed."

Why would anyone go out of their way to feel hopeless or anxious? What value does this provide to the reader throughout their day? Our psychology is hard-wired to detect any threats even though what is considered a threat is no longer a lion hiding in a bush.

Instead, we are now more likely to be victims of increasingly complex threats, e.g. legal loopholes, bureaucracy, corruption and other forms of abuse. These scenarios don't garner as much traction compared to the global-level danger of war, but the issue still stands that we have become more anxious people.

Doomscrolling can be therapeutic because it offers readers an oddly stress-relieving illusion of being aware of these threats. But the emotional roots of its addictiveness are pretty concerning.

Photo by Li-An Lim / Unsplash

Camaraderie in misery

It's bizarre, but fearing a shared threat offers a sense of community. For some lonely folk, it was a necessary thing over the COVID lockdowns to join the ranks of the countless keyboard warriors and couch philosophers online. Hooked.

Realistically I would argue that most doomscrollers passively absorb opinions and regurgitate them out as some form of contribution. Because most people don't have the means to change climate-change policy single-handedly, communities like r/Collapse offer an echo chamber for those with a death wish.

Doomscrollers find relief in the misinterpreted feeling of control of our surroundings solely by being aware. This shared 'wokeness' creates an online movement that is motivated by their status of being informed, regardless of how it made the individual feel in the end.

First-world guilt

For some doomscrollers: guilt seems to be the driving force behind their need to be informed. Most of us lucky to get through the lockdown relatively unscathed feel obliged to at least key in some opinion for the latest trending tragedy.

Unfortunately, this may lead to what was once a well-adjusted person now freaking out about every little thing about how dangerous the world can be. They can see those around them ranting about these ideas, and the feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out) settles in quickly. "If I don't inform myself on this, I'll look like an apathetic idiot!" they think. There is value in staying informed, but if the risk of exposure increases the likelihood of depression and anxiety, then maybe we should consider how much attention we give to a tragic event.

Please note that I'm not saying to be utterly dismissive of tragedy. I think what's important is to be aware of how this train of thought can impact your daily routine. Most working professionals can't afford to let emotion affect them at their job, but they can find relief from their contributions outside of it. Some doomscrollers seem to forget that effective change starts at the local scale and the way things are isn't necessarily set in stone.

I want to think that most people do wish for our planet to do better and contribute by tweaking certain spending behaviours and designing their lifestyle in a way that would genuinely quell their fear of extinction. This is easier said than done, as gloating over the ignorant seems to be the easier option.

A moral high-ground

There seems to be a shared tone of moral superiority that permeates particular Twitter and Reddit posts from doomposters. Allowing others to bathe in their misery honestly sounds like a power trip. To indulge in the satisfaction of the fact that they, out of anyone else, can inflict a sudden change in mood among the poor uninformed sounds addicting.

Reprimanding the ignorant shouldn't be the sole motivation of doomposting. Doomscrollers already feel bad enough about our impending collapse, which fuels a loop of guilt that quickly moves onto frustration. This meme spreads, and an army of doomposters is born.

Commentators and public intellectuals aren't exactly immune to the temptation of moral superiority either. Black-and-white thinking among experts seems to be mediated by a vague narrative fueled by money. Now mention something far too 'left-field' and prepare to get your ass handed by a few outspoken internet lurkers.

Public intellectuals and some more minor officials in charge of policy are now at the whims of outspoken internet communities. Cancel-culture does have its benefits, but experts are now forced to take a side on inevitable tragedies that are supposed to be morally grey. Unfortunately, discussing society's breakdown and impending doom as a species has become increasingly bipartisan.

Our desire to be seen and identify ourselves through opinion has strengthened a community of doomposters. The growing urge to inform others of our impending downfall has been a thing since even before the Bible's book of Revelation. But I suppose with the way things have been the past few years; I can't blame people wanting to bring awareness to what's really at stake.  

A limited amount of fucks to give

We've now just covered why some people seek out bad news. I'm sure certain writers mean well in bringing attention to an issue, but we've seen the demand that doomscrollers have for seeking the bleakness of things is vital to the first step in improving our situation. One consequence of this powerful desire is that it's enough to foster the sentiment that things will never get better.

But I can also understand their goal. If such an idea of doom is held onto for so long to be identified with and then spread around to ruin someone's day, maybe, then, perhaps enough people will wake up to this burning ship called society.

These days, I steer clear of platforms that discuss societal downfall and climate change for my mental health. But I genuinely have no issues with how they end up going about spreading the word. I still do check in from time to time but not to the point of bumming myself out as I'm much more aware of the limited amount fucks I can give.