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A LEICESTER psychologist has taken part in a BBC documentary exploring how social media use impacts our well-being and behaviour, especially when dealing with online trolls.

Dr Emma Short, psychologist at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) took part in the BBC documentary Social Media, Anger and Us with comedian David Baddiel, where she said that more research needs to be done in the field, which is relatively new.

Picture: De Montfort University

The programme followed Mr Baddiel as he met people who have experienced online abuse, including a family with millions of followers on TikTok whose home was burned down in an arson attack.

David Baddiel, who has experienced online hate himself, analysed the tweets he received, had an MRI scan to see how his brain interpreted trolling, and went ‘cold turkey’ by coming off Twitter for a fortnight.

He spoke to Dr Short (pictured) before and after his two weeks experiment to see if there was a difference in his anxiety and wellbeing levels. His answers showed that the break from Twitter had left him calmer, more relaxed and sleeping better.

“The truth is, we really don’t know enough about how social media affects us,” said Dr Short commenting on the issue.

“What we saw in the documentary, however, is that the negative impacts can be felt very quickly, and can have quite significant effects on wellbeing.

“Some research suggests that social media addiction is a phenomenon, and David described himself as ‘addicted’ to Twitter, spending hours a day scrolling and reading messages.

“It was interesting to see the differences in his responses to questions around anxiety, and quality of sleep in just two weeks. However, the concept of addition to social media is debated and should be treated with caution.”
Dr Short also explained the psychological ‘boost’ that someone experiences when their post is seen and shared.

Picture: BBC

She added: “The person posting is acknowledged by large numbers, often extending well beyond their own personal networks and gaining new followers, this can be experienced as enormously validating. We experience an immediate sense of a broadening of social influence and the sensation of participating in the fast-moving current of a social trend.

“However, it has be widely acknowledged that the online environment provides conditions where expression is often more uninhibited, the feeling of invisibility even where the poster is not anonymous loosens the restrictions to expression we may feel in off line social exchanges.

“So responses to our posts, should they become widely shared can be both positive and negative, with unprecedented levels of support or abuse. So, while the social and psychological gains are considerable, social media can also present us with a level of aggression that can be distressing and frightening.”

The use of social media accounts, the effects it has on us and society more broadly is an area of research that is developing rapidly across disciplines.

Members of the psychology and technology research cluster at DMU are currently designing research projects focused on trolling and cyber aggression in order to contribute to this growing field of knowledge.

‘Social Media, Anger and Us’ is available to view on BBC iPlayer for the next nine months.

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