School of Psychology Seminar Series - How indirect trauma exposure via social media affects mental health

Date Tuesday 18 April 2023
Time 12pm - 1pm
Where J.1.10 or via zoom
Presenter Professor Melanie Takarangi, Flinders University, Adelaide
Contact Nicola Starkey
Contact email
Admission Cost Free

Although using social media is typically positive, some experiences—such as exposure to explicit or distressing negative content—may be harmful to people’s mental health. Social media companies such as Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok attempt to mitigate potential harm by covering negative content with warning screens or removing it altogether— strategies that require humans to moderate content. Yet there is little-to-no empirical evidence for how often people are exposed to negative social media content, how they react to that content, nor even about the efficacy of harm-mitigation strategies. In fact, evidence suggests that warnings create anticipatory anxiety and encourage people to engage with the screened content. Moreover, evidence suggests the process of moderating negative content is itself harmful. I will present data about how often young adults are exposed to negative social media content, the impact of that exposure, and address the issue of how well warning screens work to reduce the risk of psychological harm. I will also discuss emerging evidence for when, and how, moderating negative content leads to psychological harm.

Professor Melanie Takarangi has dedicated her career to solving critical puzzles of memory in the field of clinical cognition: Are traumatic memories indelible? If not, how and why do people’s memories of traumatic experiences evolve? How do people recognise when they are experiencing involuntary memories relating to a traumatic experience? Is memory for trauma shaped more by specific emotions we feel, or by the presence of other people? Do warnings about upcoming experiences change how people respond to, and remember, those experiences? The answers to these questions inform real-world legal and clinical (mental health) issues. Her work has been funded by government and non-government agencies in Australia and internationally. She is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and the Psychonomic Society, and an Associate Editor of the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition.