Doomscrolling: Why we just can’t look away

People are logging on to keep up with it all. This past week, as demonstrations swept the globe, videos from the protests garnered millions of views on social-media platforms. One compilation has been watched more than 50 million times. For the quarter that ended in March, Twitter reported a 24% increase in daily active users over the same period last year. On June 2, Twitter ranked No. 7 in Apple’s App Store—above Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and Snapchat.

On April 24, Merriam-Webster added “doomscrolling” to its “Words We’re Watching” list but the term has circulated since at least 2018. For many, myself included, it has become an irresistible urge, in part because we’re stuck at home, spending too much time on our screens, and in part because that’s precisely where social media’s power over us is amped up.

This has a lot to do with our primal instincts, say experts. Our brains evolved to constantly seek threats—historically, that might mean poisonous berries or a vicious rival tribe, explains Mary McNaughton-Cassill, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “That’s why we seem predisposed to pay more attention to negative than positive things,” she says. “We’re scanning for danger.”