How I deal with bad news I see online

Meadhbh talks about focusing on what you can control and influence, rather than what you can’t

Written by Meadhbh Hayden


Social media is a double-edged sword. It’s fun, it’s comforting, it’s dangerous, it’s time-consuming. I both love and hate it. I love that I can talk to my sister all the way across the world in Hong Kong. I hate that I can see people living the supposed ‘dream’ on a beach in Hawaii. The global, unregulated nature of the internet means we are constantly exposed to the entire world, the entire world exposed to us. This means we can’t escape bad news.

Constant news updates on social media

Wildfires, police brutality, a pandemic claiming thousands of lives – it’s hard for social media users to avoid this endless reel of awful events from all over the world. Public platforms like Instagram and Twitter have been very successful in mobilising responses to injustice. A recent example is the huge increase in international support of the Black Lives Matter movement after the murder of George Floyd in May. However, the constant influx of bad news can be overwhelming and leave people feeling hopeless.

As an active social media user, I often find myself despairing over what little I can do about the injustices I am seeing online every day. This is something I have noticed about many people I know, who want to ‘do’ something but don’t know what. They consider themselves powerless in the face of catastrophic environmental change, useless in the fight against systemic racism. This despair can make you ‘freeze’ and do nothing at all.

Circles of concern, influence and control

In combating this overwhelm, I have found the ‘circles’ idea helpful for me. Imagine there are three circles: the circle of Concern, Influence and Control.


Inside your circle of Concern, there are things that affect you, but you can do little or nothing to change. These are the ‘bigger’ problems, like catastrophic environmental change and systemic racism.


The circle of Influence includes actions you take that can enact change down the line. For example, voting for politicians who want to address climate change or engaging with relatives about their racist behaviour.


Your circle of Control consists of what you have absolute power over – your own optimism, for instance.

How these circles can help

The three circles complement each other. So, beginning from your circle of control, identify what it is you can do that can have a direct affect on your concerns. Perhaps you can adopt a more positive attitude, or educate yourself about a topic. Moving outward into your circle of influence, think of what actions you can take to encourage change. These can be small, everyday choices like recycling waste and signing petitions. You can only affect your circle of Concern by working within the other two. The more you focus on what you can do, and what (or who) you can influence, the less time you will spend worrying about the big stuff. Give it a go and try to apply it to a specific situation you are worried about.

Social media is an essential tool nowadays to expose and fight against corruption, injustice and inequality, but we must remove ourselves from the impossible responsibility of ‘saving the entire world’. Big, global problems are complex and not easily resolved. It is easy to be tricked into thinking you are completely powerless against them, but there is always something you can do. No action you take, within your control or your influence, is too small to be insignificant.

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