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Both sides of news avoidance

The recent tidal wave of news about President Donald Trump and Melania’s COVID diagnoses, his taxes, the spread of infection delaying action on Amy Coney Barrett as Supreme Court Justice, wildfires in California, the vice presidential debate, protests across the country on racial injustice, and the rising COVID death toll all seems unavoidable.

a stack of flyers on a table: Both sides of news avoidance

© Greg Nash
Both sides of news avoidance

And yet, there are many in this country who are unaware of any of these events. How is it possible to avoid news when the news is more abundant and accessible than ever before?

Research from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism suggests that news avoidance is fairly common. The pre-COVID 2019 Digital News Report finds that 32 percent of people, across 38 countries, self-identify as someone who will often or sometimes avoid the news. In the U.S., this proportion is higher at 41 percent.

A more recent report, based on the U.K., finds that news avoidance during the pandemic is a more frequent practice, with 66 percent saying they avoid the news because of its negative on impact their mood.

It makes a lot of sense that many people are avoiding news stories about any of these breaking news events. They worry that engaging with these stories will make them feel upset, angry, frustrated or helpless.

This is particularly true during the COVID-19 pandemic when people’s emotions are already fraught, and many are looking for a way to escape and improve their moods by turning away from the news, and toward entertainment. Netflix added 10 million new customers during the second quarter of 2020.

Some people are motivated to take specific actions to avoid the news, especially when trying to manage negative emotions. They make the conscious decision to practice a type of news detox, where they uninstall certain apps, take a break from Twitter, or physically leave their phone at home while going on vacation. There are also digital tools that will filter out certain topics from appearing on Google News, or remove references to specific people on various webpages.

It makes sense people need breaks from the news, specifically if it facilitates their continued engagement with news going forward. This type of news avoidance tends to be practiced by people who are regular consumers of news.

Another type of news avoidance that is more concerning is when people consume little to no news and don’t have to work that hard to do so.

I have been researching news avoidance for years, using both quantitative surveys and qualitative interviews to better understand the role that news plays (or does not play) in people’s daily lives. When conducting qualitative interviews, one of my favorite questions is: “Is it possible for you to avoid news?”

The range of responses are drastic. Some say it is possible, but it would take a lot of work. As one interviewee reported, “For me to avoid news, I would have to go out in the woods someplace where I didn’t