The Impact of Disturbing Content on Social Media and the Role of Algorithms

Tara H

Hatched by Tara H

Feb 06, 2024

4 min read


The Impact of Disturbing Content on Social Media and the Role of Algorithms


In today's digital age, social media platforms have become a significant source of information and entertainment for many. However, with the increasing prevalence of disturbing content, such as war videos and graphic imagery, it is crucial to understand the potential negative consequences they can have on individuals. This article explores the concept of secondary trauma and how social media algorithms contribute to the dissemination of distressing material.

Understanding Secondary Trauma:

Secondary trauma refers to the psychological distress that arises from second-hand exposure to traumatic events. It occurs when individuals hear about or witness the firsthand trauma experiences of others, either through personal accounts or through visual material. The effects of secondary trauma can be profound, with individuals experiencing symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and intrusive thoughts.

The Impact of Disturbing Content on Social Media:

The advent of social media platforms has made it easier for disturbing content to reach a wider audience. War videos, bombings, and other violent acts are shared and circulated rapidly, often without any trigger warnings or content moderation. For those who come across these videos, the emotional toll can be significant. The explicit physical injuries and the desperate looks of children can trigger intense emotional reactions, leaving individuals feeling disturbed and overwhelmed.

Acknowledging the Emotional Impact:

When confronted with distressing content, it is essential for individuals to be honest with themselves. Brushing off the emotional impact or pretending it doesn't affect them can hinder healing and contribute to long-term psychological distress. By acknowledging their emotional reactions, individuals can take steps to process their feelings and seek support if needed. Self-care practices, such as talking to a trusted friend or engaging in activities that bring comfort, can also help alleviate the emotional burden.

The Role of Social Media Algorithms:

Social media algorithms play a significant role in determining the content that individuals encounter on their feeds. These algorithms are designed to prioritize engaging and attention-grabbing content, often resulting in the amplification of moral and emotional information. However, this amplification can also lead to the spread of misinformation and distressing material. It is crucial to consider how algorithms can be better utilized to foster accurate human social learning rather than exploit biases.

Fostering Accurate Human Social Learning:

To address the issue of distorted social learning on social media platforms, it is important to implement strategies that prioritize accuracy and reliability. Algorithm designers should consider incorporating measures to verify the credibility of content before amplifying it. Fact-checking mechanisms and partnerships with reputable news organizations can help ensure that the information shared is accurate and trustworthy.

Additionally, providing users with more control over the content they are exposed to can empower them to curate their online experience. Customizable algorithms that allow individuals to filter out certain types of content, such as violent imagery, can help reduce the risk of secondary trauma. Social media platforms should also prioritize the implementation of trigger warnings and content moderation to provide a safer online environment for users.


The proliferation of disturbing content on social media platforms poses a significant challenge for individuals' mental health and well-being. Understanding the concept of secondary trauma and being honest about its emotional impact is crucial for individuals to take appropriate steps towards healing and seeking support. At the same time, the role of social media algorithms cannot be ignored. By prioritizing accuracy, implementing fact-checking mechanisms, and empowering users with more control, we can mitigate the negative effects of disturbing content and foster a healthier online environment.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Practice self-awareness: Be honest with yourself about the emotional impact of disturbing content and take the time to acknowledge and process your feelings.
  • 2. Seek support: If you find yourself deeply affected by distressing material on social media, reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional for support and guidance.
  • 3. Curate your online experience: Take advantage of customizable algorithms and content filtering options provided by social media platforms to limit your exposure to disturbing content and prioritize your mental well-being.

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