Outrage overload: Coping with upsetting, manipulative or “fake” news

Howard Goldberg’s CMG 2017 workshop summary

At a California Men’s Gathering workshop on May 27, we discussed feeling bombarded by news that’s making us angry or upset. A quick survey revealed that the discussion group has several characteristics making them especially susceptible to such feelings:

  • Unanimously dissatisfied with the way things are going in this country today. Among all U.S. adults, a quarter to a third tell pollsters they are satisfied.
  • Keeping up with the news a lot. Roughly two-thirds of Americans say in polls that they do not follow national news closely, although that number has dropped lately especially among Democrats.
  • Consuming news in a setting where they are physically alone, not with family or friends.
  • Most in the group react to the news on social media.

We discussed how digital news delivery has blurred lines between news, commentary and propaganda. For example, a Facebook “news feed” mixes together straight news stories from traditional media with commentary, satire and even hoax stories. We made a list of stories members of the group found upsetting (police shootings, plight of Syrian refugees, setbacks in LGBT rights, inaction on climate change, and the election and policies of President Trump.) We discussed how we felt and acted on our feelings that these things “should not” be happening. Then as an exercise, we tried to verbalize the arguments that some might make on why these things “should” be happening. Most but not all in the group felt the exercise reduced their stress over those issues but did not lessen their desire to act on their beliefs.

Members of the group shared some ways they are coping with upsetting news:

  • Putting their news consumption on a strict diet (one time of day, one show to watch or listen to.)
  • Taking a vacation from social media.
  • Paying more attention to assessing the accuracy of what they are seeing, and using fact-checking sources.
    My own list:
  • Read more explanatory journalism
  • Laugh at propaganda
  • When it’s a hell of a story, think “interesting if true”

Do you have something to add? Comment here.

Further Reading

And just for fun, this satire video