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Author Jodie Jackson On How We Can Make Social Media And The Internet A Kinder And More Tolerant…

Author Jodie Jackson On How We Can Make Social Media And The Internet A Kinder And More Tolerant Place

It is easy to feel distant from the person whom you are commenting on. It is easy to be negative and it is easy to feel entitled to be so because of our outrage, offense or dislike we feel towards someone or something they have said. But words are powerful — even from a stranger. Not only this but they are an invitation for others to comment and if it starts trending, people can become buried under the weight of this negativity. I think a good question to ask before you post is ”what am I trying to achieve?”. If the answer is ever to shame someone, embarrass them or hurt them, it is probably best avoided.

As a part of my interview series about the things we can each do to make social media and the internet a kinder and more tolerant place, I had the pleasure to interview Jodie Jackson.

Jodie Jackson is on a mission to change the media; her recent book “You Are What You Read” is an invitation to become a part of this movement.

Jodie Jackson is a news consumer-turned-author, who has spent the last decade researching the psychological impact of the news. Through her work, she has shown that the excessive negativity in the news creates a distorted and harmful picture of the world. Jodie believes that we need a better balance in the news and shows why we must widen the media lens to include stories of solutions, progress and development in order to improve our psychological & sociological wellbeing, the news industry and, ultimately, the world.

Jodie holds a Master’s in Positive Psychology and is a partner at The Constructive Journalism Project. Her widely cited research has led to speaking engagements at universities, organisations and media conferences around the world.

Jodie’s journey to author of You Are What You Read began in 2011, when she decided she could not bear to hear another depressing news story.

“I would switch radio stations as soon as I heard the beeps introducing the news bulletin. They sounded to me like alarm bells, warning me that something awful was coming.”

Some saw this decision not to listen to the news and see the world in all of its ugly existence as naïve, weak or extreme.

“This reaction that others had towards me made me feel that I must be damaged in some way, that there was something in me that was not strong enough or brave enough to see the world in all of its ugly existence”.

But Jodie did not — and still doesn’t — see the world as simply ugly.

“My experience of the world is that it is a remarkable and complex place, filled with adventure, imagination and kindness as well as cruelty, suffering, and injustice. I could understand that the world had its flaws but I did not and could not agree with the picture that I was being given by reading the news. I came to realise it was not me but the news industry that was damaged”.

It was at this point, that Jodie asked “How could I remain informed on what’s going on in the world without being totally overwhelmed and depressed by it?”

It was this question that led to Jodie’s increasing involvement in the Constructive Journalism movement.

Over the past ten years Jodie has contributed to that movement in various ways, including: running a website collating solutions-focused journalism; organising events and crowdfunding campaigns; writing for established and emerging platforms; speaking on panels with leading thinkers, academics and journalists; conducting her own widely-referenced research into the effects of the news bias on consumers; and now writing You Are What You Read.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

In 2011, I got to the point where I could no longer bear to hear another news story. The reason that I got to that point was because I found it so negative. I became so disheartened about the state of the world and so disappointed in humanity. Although I had had enough of the news, I still wanted to remain informed but in a different way; I started searching for stories of people, groups and organisations who were attempting to solve some of the biggest problems and challenges that we face; I was inspired by the solutions being implemented to creatively tackle these problems that we are so well informed on. This helped me feel more connected to the news and, more importantly, more connected to society and my potential within it. I have since spent the last decade researching the psychological impact of the negativity bias on our mental health, the health of our democracy and society, as well as investigating the effects of solutions journalism as an antidote to the helpless, hateful and hopeless effects of this negativity bias.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I have recently published my book, “You Are What You Read: why changing your media diet can change the world”. This book helps us understand how our current twenty-four-hour news cycle is produced, who decides what stories are selected, why the news is mostly negative, and what effect this has on us as individuals and as a society. Combining the latest research from psychology, sociology, and the media, she builds a powerful case for including solutions into our news narrative as an antidote to the effects of the negativity bias. This timely book is not a call for us to ignore the negative; rather, it asks us to not ignore the positive. It asks us to change the way we consume the news and shows us how, through our choices, we have the power to improve our media diet, our mental health and just possibly the world.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. Have you ever been publicly shamed or embarrassed on social media? Can you share with our readers what that experience felt like?

Yes. After speaking at a conference about the power of solutions journalism — someone took it upon themselves to continually and fairly aggressively attack my talk and me. They painted me to be naïve and extreme. Neither of which I consider myself to be. And if this gentleman had taken the time to read my work, he would not consider it either. However, the caricature he painted of me online was hurtful and embarrassing. I had lost control of the narrative; my work and identity felt misrepresented and it is upsetting when someone is being so harsh. There is the temptation to engage to try and resolve but I did not, fortunately others (whom I did not know) jumped to my defense online and this meant more to me than my own words would have.

What did you do to shake off that negative feeling?

I reminded myself of all of the nice things people whom I respect and whose opinions I value have said regarding my work and my character. It is important to remember to value different voices differently. Even if a voice shouts loudly, it does not always deserve your attention. I also did not look at it again. The best way to shake it off is to not remind yourself of it.

Have you ever posted a comment on social media that you regretted because you felt it was too harsh or mean?

No — I am careful to think before I type. I am also a passionate advocate for constructive conversation — this isn’t to say that you can’t be critical but being harsh or mean is rarely constructive.

When one reads the comments on Youtube or Instagram, or the trending topics on Twitter, a great percentage of them are critical, harsh, and hurtful. The people writing the comments may feel like they are simply tapping buttons on a keyboard, but to the one on the receiving end of the comment, it is very different. This may be intuitive, but I feel that it will be instructive to spell it out. Can you help illustrate to our readers what the recipient of a public online critique might be feeling?

It is easy to feel distant from the person whom you are commenting on. It is easy to be negative and it is easy to feel entitled to be so because of our outrage, offense or dislike we feel towards someone or something they have said. But words are powerful — even from a stranger. Not only this but they are an invitation for others to comment and if it starts trending, people can become buried under the weight of this negativity. I think a good question to ask before you post is ”what am I trying to achieve?”. If the answer is ever to shame someone, embarrass them or hurt them, it is probably best avoided.

Do you think a verbal online attack feels worse or less than a verbal argument in “real life”? How are the two different?

It is difficult to compare but verbal arguments in real life are usually more private, more easily resolved and one is able to distance themselves from them while still socialising with others in “real life”. Online attacks can be worse as they are so public, they are difficult to resolve as it becomes mob mentality and there are too many people to cope with and they are impossible to disconnect from without distancing yourself from your whole social network.

What long term effects can happen to someone who was shamed online?

IT can lead to lower self-esteem, increased anxiety, increased likelihood of depression, isolation and self loathing. Shame is not a constructive human emotion. It is the feeling of guilt pushed to its extreme. Guilt is a constructive human emotion that enables us to be active in seeking change or self-improvement but shame is a fairly immobilizing emotion that makes us passive and unresponsive. We become paralyzed by the pain of this experience.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!


Author Jodie Jackson On How We Can Make Social Media And The Internet A Kinder And More Tolerant… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.