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#Mournporn and the power of emotional contagion

It was a strange few weeks online especially as a Brit.

You can listen to me riff on this topic as a podcast above, read as an article below, or both!

It’s been a big couple of weeks here in England with the passing of Queen Elizabeth. I noticed from a place of neutrality how it changed over the days, and particularly where we had what was known as ‘the queue’; this queue that grew and grew and grew. And in many respects, I felt like the queue grew because of what was happening on social media and in the media. It got to the point where there was a queue for the queue. I heard a couple of people refer to what was happening online as mourn porn – to me, it was emotional contagion.

All other news and all other things happening in the world just stopped. We were (particularly as a Brit) asked/expected to pour our attention and our emotion into this event. And no matter how you feel about the Queen and the monarchy, as there was obviously a lot of polarisation online, I saw very little neutrality around it on social media or in the media. Even though when talking to friends outside of the digital space, there was much more of that.

I thought it was a really interesting example, as I've talked about emotional contagion in the past, and because I find it really fascinating from an energetic perspective as well, how other people’s emotions are affecting us unconsciously, when we go online. I think it was around 2015 that Facebook ran a set of experiments where they altered, what a large group of people were able to see in their newsfeeds. They filtered what was seen in their timelines towards more posts from people who were feeling and sharing their upset.

The Facebook emotional contagion experiment, in which researchers manipulated Facebook's news feed by, among other things, showing fewer positive posts to see if they would lead to greater user expressions of sadness, raises obvious as well as non-obvious problems. (Kramer et al., 2014).

They then surveilled those people essentially to see what kind of things they posted, having been subjected to more negative posts. And what they saw was that those who had the negative content in their timeline were far more likely to then post negative things themselves.

There's a school of thought now around contagion through social networks, that's getting bigger and more concerning. I read an article from the New York Post, talking about how social media is making teens mentally ill. They were dialling into a trend that is emerging where young people are following influencers on platforms like TikTok and Instagram and YouTube who have psychiatric symptoms, whether it's multiple personality disorder, disassociated identity disorder, or things like Tourette syndrome. And they're seeing a dramatic increase in these in young people who are coming to the doctors and being diagnosed.

However, what we're seeing now is something different. We're seeing social media, shaping people in ways that seem to mimic some of these disorders, several colleagues, and I have begun to call them cases of pseudo B P D or pseudo D I D. These are cases where they're presenting psychological symptoms dissipate when the person is removed from social media for several weeks, therefore proving that the behaviours presented are not the genuine article.

They discuss the case of a young woman called Susie who had developed mental health issues after becoming depressed. When her friends went off to university and she was left at home, she started spending between 12 and 15 hours a day on Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. She started watching videos of influencers who were doing things like talking about cutting themselves, and then she'd start to cut herself. And this is a phenomenon that's been picked up on. It used to happen quite a lot, I think, with Tumblr accounts and anorexia accounts. There's quite a lot of evidence, I'd say, over the last 10 years, but I think it's become a lot bigger – we just don’t hear enough about it.

We can dial into these more extreme cases, which are of concern, but we can also expand out into how it might be affecting us and our loved ones on a day-to-day basis. I have noticed over the last two or three years, particularly that when big events are happening – and boy have we had some big events happening over the last two or three years on planet Earth – the way that we react to those events on social media, often with unprocessed grief, emotions of all kinds, anger, frustration, let's go for the whole spectrum of emotions here, whatever it may be that we are unconsciously picking up when we're online.

I've started to develop a practice of protecting my energy, and also clearing my energy when I'm using social media. I've also become aware of what might be my emotions and what might be the emotions of others to start to notice if what I'm feeling is mine or whether that is being imprinted onto me unconsciously through the collective, through social media.

Questions for you to ask yourself; How do you think you are being affected by the emotions of others when you are using social media?

Are you aware that you might be being nudged in certain directions of emotion unconsciously?

I want to raise the awareness of emotional contagion through social networks, because I think it's really important.

So many people don't know that we are picking up emotions from others online on a day-to-day basis. We know it happens in physical spaces with other humans, but because we're tapping in and out of our phones, some say between 80 and 150 times a day, and particularly as I discussed in the last podcast, the numbers of teens that are using social networks… How do we protect ourselves from this?

Is there a way that we can turn this emotional contagion to a positive? Can we, those of us that are aware of this, use this opportunity to put good energy, positive emotion, positive intention, positive vibrations out into our cyberspace? And when we are in a period of strong emotion – not just negative, ‘cause I don’t believe that everything should be positive – it’s important to be aware of emotional contagion. Can we use the knowledge that emotional contagion exists to pause for a moment before we share something negative, before we share our anger or grief or emotion? Knowing that those people that are connected to us in those spaces are likely to pick some of that emotion up unconsciously and carry it with them throughout the rest of the day. Can knowing this also invite us as conscious digital citizens and conscious human beings to have protection and clearing practices around our emotions and energies?

I often talk about the Town Square and the Living Room when I'm referring to the different spaces on social media. If I go to different spaces, like the city or to a big busy event, when I come home at the end of the day, I will have a bath or a shower, and I will wash the energy of the day away. I wonder how we would benefit from developing more common practices around how we protect and clear our energy when we've been online all day.

I interviewed Kimberly Jones for a show on UK Health Radio earlier in the year, which I wrote about here. She shared lots of different ways we can do this and how you can protect your energy field, but also the energy field around your phone.

Here are a few of Kimberly’s favourite ways to clear her digital energy:

  • Cord clearing or a shower, imagining that light coming down from Source and rinsing over and through you, clearing and cleaning as it goes.

  • Call on whatever works for you: God, Goddess, guides, angels, Archangel Michael, divine spirit. Call on that assistance to clear cords, ties, links, and connections between you and any other person, place, time, and spirit dimension that's not for your highest good or greatest joy now. Trust that it's happening with no effort required.

  • Imagine beautiful, golden, rainbow orbs around your computer and phone, protecting your energy field.

  • Use smoke, crystals, sound, chimes and tuning forks to give everything a cleanse every day.

George Lizos, my friend and author of Protect Your Light, recommends doing an exercise where you take your finger and you put it at the end of your phone and tap it, imagining that there's golden light in the end of your finger, streaming into and filling up your mobile phone and surrounding your different apps and different digital spaces.

Start to notice if you are being affected by other people's emotions in the online space and then once you have started to notice that, have a think about what you can do as part of your own personal daily practices to keep that awareness alive, and then start clearing and developing different ways to protect yourself. You can use different spiritual / energy and wellbeing practices that you have for your physical body and spaces for your digital body and spaces too. So this is an invitation for you to think about this in your day-to-day life.

I hope that this article, as ever, finds you well, and that it's helped you in some way. If you've got any thoughts or comments, or any examples or experiences that you want to share, I love to hear them. So please put them in the comments below, and I will get back to you in due course.

If you enjoyed this, please think about subscribing and sharing it with your friends. I produce these for free as part of my service work, and also for sharing my thoughts, feelings and research about social media with you.

If you'd like to find more information about Social Media For A New Age or about me, Katie Brockhurst, your author and host, you can go to my website, or buy my books, a series designed to support you on your journey with social media and digital wellbeing.


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