Doomscrolling (Doomsurfing)

What is Doomscrolling?

Doomscrolling or doomsurfing is the term used to describe social media users habitually scrolling through their newsfeeds for negative content and videos.

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As Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines it, doom scrolling is “to spend excessive time online scrolling through news or other content that makes one feel sad, anxious, angry, etc.”

Doomscrolling is particularly prevalent on social media platforms because providers like Facebook employ algorithms to deliver content that generates the highest engagement, even if it causes anxiety for the end user.

A study conducted by the University of Florida suggested that doomscrolling “was closely related to online vigilance, problematic use of the Internet and social media, and fear of missing out (FOMO).”

The same study also linked doom scrolling to passive social media use, habitual media consumption, anxiety, and poor control. It also noted that men, young adults, and politically engaged individuals were more likely to engage in doom scrolling.

The same study also connected doomscrolling to passive social media use, habitual media consumption, anxiety, and a lack of control. Additionally, it observed that men, young adults, and politically active individuals were more likely to engage in doomscrolling.

Who Created the Term?

The precise attribution of the term “doomscrolling” appears to vary. Some sources indicate that the term can be traced back as far as 2018, while others argue that it gained prominence through journalist Karen K. Ho, who popularized it as early as March 2020 during coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In any case, the usage of the term saw a notable surge in 2020. This increase can be attributed to the exceptionally negative news cycle of COVID-19 cases and lockdowns and the controversies surrounding the 2020 U.S. presidential election, which collectively contributed to an overwhelming deluge of negative news coverage during that year.

How Doomscrolling Can Impact Your Mental Health

Regularly browsing negative news content can have a significant impact on a user’s mental health if left unchecked. Some of the most significant mental impacts of doom scrolling include:

  • Anxiety and depression: Routine social media use has been found to increase anxiety and depression in young adults.
  • Increased cortisol: According to Neuropsychologist Dr. Judy Ho, doomscrolling can cause a “fight” or “flight” response which increases the brain’s cortisol levels, making users feel unhappy and tired. High cortisol can cause weight gain, increased blood pressure, and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Poor sleeping habits: Sleep expert Rachel Beard has warned that lying in bed and scrolling through social media apps like Tiktok, Instagram, and Twitter can sacrifice and delay sleep, leading to tiredness the next day.

How to Know if You’re Doomscrolling

Given that the term is relatively new, there is some ambiguity over the difference between habitual social media use and doomscrolling.

One of the key characteristics of doomscrolling is that users aren’t just habitually browsing social media but are addicted to seeking out negative content, which adversely impacts their mental health.

In this sense, browsing becomes doomscrolling when the user actively dwells on the negativity of the content.

A study produced in the Health Communication journal found that 16.5% of 1,100 people surveyed showed signs of “severely problematic” news consumption, leading to greater stress levels, anxiety, and poor health.

Users who regularly consume news content should also be vigilant, as the news cycle often highlights the most negative occurrences of the day. This can be problematic because humans have a negativity bias and a tendency to give more weight to negative information.

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Tim Keary
Technology Specialist

Tim Keary is a freelance technology writer and reporter covering AI, cybersecurity, and enterprise technology. Before joining Techopedia full-time in 2023, his work appeared on VentureBeat, Forbes Advisor, and other notable technology platforms, where he covered the latest trends and innovations in technology. He holds a Master’s degree in History from the University of Kent, where he learned of the value of breaking complex topics down into simple concepts. Outside of writing and conducting interviews, Tim produces music and trains in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).