I don’t particularly like the term toxic because it sounds clickbaity, but it seems fitting for this post. Media is everywhere. Toxic media is also prevalent. Engaging with and keeping sources of toxic media in your life is damaging for a few different reasons.
- Toxic media takes up your precious time and energy
- It can be harmful to your mental health
- It can lead to a lack of understanding or empathy, while also bringing out negative emotions and reactions.
and I’m sure there’s many more reasons, but I feel like a lot of other reasons could be sub-categories of the ones above. So, what is toxic media, how do you find it, and what do you do about it?
How I’m Defining Toxic Media
This is not a sociological definition or anything official. To me, toxic media is anything that distorts your view of the world, distancing from reality in a way that causes more harm than good to yourself and others.
So, I would not consider reading the news about a tragic event “toxic” because that sort of thing is supposed to bring up negative reactions.
But, reading an article about how someone lost 20 lbs in 5 days and you feeling negative emotions from that would be “toxic” because
A. that’s not a healthy rate in which to lose weight and
B. if you’re feeling bad because you’re not losing weight that fast, that doesn’t help you. It’s just discouraging to compare yourself to another person, especially if the article is promoting unhealthy lifestyles and/or not telling the whole truth. If you are having trouble with body image, check out this post.
Based on that definition, read on to find out what forms of toxic media there are in the world and how to deal with them.
Forms of Toxic Media and What to Do with Them
TV and Movies
If you watch movies and tv knowing that everything, even documentaries and the news have an ounce of fiction to them, then you can get away with watching plenty of tv and movies without feeling any toxic effects. I’ll address the news more in the next section. I’m mainly going to focus on fictional tv shows and movies in this one.
I think the main source of toxicity in movies and tv is from providing inaccurate representations of things. This can lead people to compare their own lives to what’s happening on the screen. Relationships don’t look like the ones on TV, so don’t expect yours to be like that. Same goes for bodies (I mean live ones, not dead ones, although film bodies don’t look like real dead bodies either. I’m hoping you’re not in any situations where you are around a dead body and your thought is “this isn’t how it looks in the movies”).
Obviously, a lot of shows and movies are not meant to be accurate and that’s kind of the point of them, but that doesn’t mean people don’t watch them and accept all of it as completely far-fetched. For example, someone watches a sci-fi movie in which women are objectified. The person may disbelieve the sci-fi part, but see the objectification as ok because it happens a lot in our culture.
Reality shows are somewhat worse than shows deemed fictional, because sure they are of real people who exist, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t acting or presenting a different persona than in normal life. The shows also cut and paste whatever adds up to look the most dramatic.
Documentaries are more truthful than reality shows, but also, there’s only so much you can fit in to a docu-series or a 2 hour movie, so there’s always going to be stuff left out. Generally, documentaries try to be more informative than dramatic although there’s going to be some form of bias, since there is in pretty much everything. I guess maybe not animal documentaries, but ones about people usually have one side or argument they’re trying to show.
My point here is, some tv shows and movies have toxic aspects, showing unrealistic ideals or unhealthy behaviors, but for the most part, if you use critical thinking and acknowledge that what you’re watching isn’t your reality, nor anyone else’s, it shouldn’t cause any toxic changes in your life.
News is different than fictional tv and shows because it does try to present itself as non-fictional. I’m not one of those “fake news is everywhere” type of people, but I am cautious about what news I take in and where the sources are from. News can be toxic in a different way from film and television. The issues arise more when people misinterpret what is being said or what is written is actually incorrect. It’s not so much about people comparing their lives to what’s on screens. It’s about whether the information about the world is truthful or not. If it’s not, that can lead to negative actions or arguments based on false information.
Typically, I hear about current events from memes, Twitter, or Facebook. However, I don’t stop there if I see something interesting. I’ll either google it or just go on a news site I know is reliable to make sure whatever I’m reading is accurate. If you’re not sure whether the news site you’re using is reliable, type it into the search bar on mediabiasfactcheck.com. The ads have gotten more annoying since the last time I used it, but it will give you a ranking of factual reporting and whether it’s more neutral, left, or right biased.
So to avoid toxic news, check sources, critically think, and seek out factual reporting.
Social media is probably what comes to your mind when you think of toxic media. It is often portrayed negatively in other media. Social media itself can mess with you mentally. The likes and notifications you get from other people can cause dopamine levels to go up (see this article from Harvard for more info. I like referencing journal articles, but this seemed to be an easier read). I think I could write a whole different post on social media and psychology, but that would be a lot for this post. So, I’m just focusing on other people who may spread toxic information and representations of their lives and current events.
Friends, “Friends”, and Family
I think friends and family on Facebook can be some of the harder sources of toxic media to get rid of. I haven’t personally had this issue much. There are some people on Facebook I have unfriended or muted, but not many. I think some people may feel obligated to stay connected to family members on social media even if they’re sharing inaccurate info or adding in negativity. If you’re really concerned about that, snoozing or unfollowing is a good option so you don’t feel like you’re severely severing ties.
If you’re not worried, then unfriend everyone who makes you feel crappy or who shares questionable posts. Also, I don’t think anyone really cares about Facebook friends anymore. It feels easier on Instagram to remove people. I’m not sure if it’s just cuz the term “follower” seems less attached than “friend” or if I just don’t care as much because it’s mainly for the blog/influencing rather than personal stuff.
Really though, if people you’re connected with on social media are being unnecessarily negative towards you, sharing misinformation, or really anything that feels toxic to you (which will be different for everyone) then just remove them. Nurture your good relationships instead.
I separated influencers from everyone else because I feel like their toxicity is different than just people you know personally. The main toxic issues I see from influencers fairly often are: 1. promoting unhealthy products and behaviors. 2. trying to be “relatable” in ways that just kinda make people feel bad about themselves. 3. They only share the best parts of their lives.
The easiest way to avoid feeling bad after seeing that type of content is to just now follow influencers like that. I know plenty of influencers who are share the ups and downs of their lives, refuse to promote anything unhealthy, and are just real because they’re themselves. We aim to be like those people. If you need ideas on who to follow, check out all the people we’re following on Instagram. So, be picky about whose photos show up on your feed. Choose to interact with the people who inspire and motivate you not to be exactly like them, but to be you and improve yourself.
The main takeaways from this post on how to cut out toxic media are pretty simple. Critically think about any information you receive and check sources. Be active in deciding where you get information. Be choosy in who you keep in your social media circle.