Online spaces and content can bring us a lot of joy, but they can also cause harm and pain. Here are some important things to remember about being trauma-informed online with ourselves, with others, and with the content we encounter. Being trauma-informed means taking into consideration a person’s experience of trauma and their reactions to it.
#1) Pictures of outwardly happy smiling faces don’t always mean people are happy and smiling inside.
It’s easy to assume that everyone else is living exciting, fun-filled lives when scrolling social media. These platforms have been known to produce FOMO like feelings (or fear of missing out). A research study found that the more time students spent on Facebook, the more they felt that others were leading a more fulfilling life than they did. Fun photos may lead us to believe that our friends, loved ones, or acquaintances are happy and doing well, when deep down, they may not be. Remember that one second out of someone else’s life captured by a photo doesn’t constitute their permanent situation, mood, or feelings. We have no idea what others might be going through in life and can’t tell that information by looking at their social media.
#2) Always imagine the one person you are helping.
When making the decision to engage online, it’s important to think about how impactful you are. You have the ability to do wonderful things in the world, like help someone else feel less alone, introduce a new perspective to society, or create meaningful change for others through offering support and creating community. Even if one person sees you or your content and feels better for it, that is a great gift to the world.
#3) Don’t assume trolls are a majority opinion.
Negative feedback often speaks louder than positive comments. This is because of how our brains are wired. Research indicates that we are far more likely to remember negative comments than we are positive ones, and this changes the way we process incoming information about compliments or criticisms. For example, you may give a presentation at your work, and afterwards the audience is given feedback cards. Let’s imagine that 97 out of 100 people found the presentation to be great, while three people left unfavorable or harsh comments. Most people will spend exceptionally more time thinking about the negative reviews than remembering that the overwhelming majority of people gave good reviews. This is called negativity bias, and we must actively be aware of it to negate the harm it's doing.
#4) Assume every person you encounter is having the worst day of their life.
Anonymous strangers are people too. Although this is not meant to excuse the behavior, victims of online harassment may find comfort in the fact that the behavior is a reflection of the abuser’s inability to manage difficult emotions more so than of any fault on the victim. Being trauma-informed means we know that every person we meet is carrying a very heavy burden, and as such, we first give them the benefit of the doubt in assuming they are doing the very best they can under conditions we may not fully understand.
#5) Embrace your right to put up boundaries online.
In being trauma-informed, as the aforementioned point outlines, we must also give ourselves the same compassion we give others. We are not obligated to participate or be party to any interactions in spaces which don’t accept us, support us, challenge us for the better, or bring us joy. Utilizing many of the boundary features online or on social media can help improve mental health and craft spaces which are positive for the user. Such features include not turning on your camera during video conferencing, blocking or reporting harassing users and comments, increasing privacy settings, and more.
#6) Cognitive bias is at home on the internet.
Our brains are amazing supercomputers with outstanding abilities. They are not, however, without their flaws. Cognitive biases are those many blind spots that distort our reality by convincing us that our worst fear is the most likely scenario in any given situation. There are many different kinds of cognitive bias which often make us believe that anxious emotions are based in evidence, when in reality, we usually have no idea what other facts we aren’t considering. For example, we assume people who unfriend us are mad or hate us, when in reality, they may have just chosen to de-active their social media for reasons of their own.
#7) It’s OK to use filters, and it’s OK not to use filters.
Technology was created with a single job — to serve human wants and needs. As such, its availability to us anytime we wish gives it purpose. If a person enjoys filters, there are an array of creative options to have fun and produce art or content with. If one doesn’t, filter-less media never goes out of style and is always needed in the world. The choice is entirely up to the user.
#8) Doom scrolling can be triggering and overwhelming. It’s not uncompassionate to make a conscious choice to look away.
The great thing about the internet is that it allows us to access an ocean of information all with the click of a button (or push of a finger). That is also what can make the internet such a scary and overwhelming place. Doom scrolling is “the act of spending an excessive amount of screen time devoted to the absorption of negative news.” This negative news may be very triggering or have a harmful impact on the reader, who may feel guilt, depression, anxiety, fear, anger, or any other emotion through empathy. People often suffer in solidarity with others out of guilt and compassion. At the same time, there is nothing wrong with putting up a boundary and actively choosing not to take in negative news for the sake of one's mental health. Not watching the news, not reading a triggering article, or unfollowing content that upsets you are measures you can take to avoid a trauma overload.
#9) Zoom fatigue is real. No, everyone doesn’t hate you.
A growing number of people have reported feeling brain fog, exhaustion, anxiety, and self judgment after extensive usage of telecommunication software. “Zoom fatigue” has been studied by scientists, who found that these feelings are often an accumulation of “mirror anxiety, or anxiety caused by seeing your own face on the screen; feeling trapped, like you can’t move too much during the meeting; feeling watched by everyone else on the call; [and creating a] bigger cognitive load from putting out and taking in more social cues” like when to speak and when to listen. Even though the feelings are real for the user, these are perceptions. It’s more likely that everyone else was feeling the same thoughts about themselves as opposed to judging you. Being trauma-informed can include the awareness that other people may be just as worried about judgment as we are, and in fact, we’re often in the same boat with someone who we feel may be thinking negative thoughts about us.
#10) Our perception is our reality.
We start observing media imagery at such a young age that we tend to think of depictions as a mirror of reality instead of constructions. Those depictions of false reality then become expectations we place on ourselves or others in the real world. Just as we experience this in our own way, other people create their own reality too. It’s vital to remember that the online world is a world of media, of constructions, which can change our reality depending on what content we have in front of us. Getting in the driver’s seat of this and actively choosing content or spaces that serve our goals, boosts us, or makes us feel part of a community can be empowering.