Social media impact has enlarged and became irreplaceable over the last few years. The distressing and heart-wrecking contents broadcast on social media platforms place a long-lasting impression on its consumers, especially the younger population. Therefore, the current study aimed to examine the traumatizing impression on young social media users during the Israel-Palestine crisis through focus group discussion design.
A Focus group guide based on literature and suggestions by subject matter experts was developed and used to evaluate constructs under study. The sample was comprised of 45 participants divided into six independent groups. The focus group discussion was audiotaped and transcribed. Content analysis technique (Krippendorff, 2004) was employed to analyze the data. Inter-rater reliability was found to be substantial. The major themes identified showed depression, distress, aggression, and anger among social media consumers after viewing conflicting videos and images related to the Israel-Palestine Crisis. The current study's findings contribute to understanding the traumatizing and heart-rending impression of violent social media content on its users. Subsequently, to avoid these deadly consequences, all countries need to play their constructive role positively and resolve these conflicting national or international matters.
Keywords: Traumatization, depression, social media consumer, mental health
Conflict always impacts one’s mental and physical health negatively. For the past few decades, the continuous Israel and Palestine conflict has left deep impressions worldwide. This ongoing conflict exacts a hefty price on the physical and mental health of the region’s population. As videos of the collapsing building, rockets streaking through the sky, bombardment, and devastated families caught worldwide attention on social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Tik-Tok, and Twitter. This proves that social networking is the fastest and popular digital activity across all around the world. During the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, the use of social media also increased three times more than usual. People are spending more time on Facebook. Twitter, Tok-Tok or Instagram. According to the (Digital Global Statshot Report, 2021) approximately, 4.72 billion people worldwide are using social media and the internet. Total 332 million new users joined this online platform last year (KEMP, 2021). Social media consumers share and comment and show reactions to trending or viral videos and news. However, this is not just limited to their reactions or comments; sometimes, these viral footages affect them deeply and make them stressed or depressed. Israel and Palestine's conflict is also leaving a deep impression on social media consumers worldwide.
Viral video footage of Israeli soldier's invasion of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, air raid sirens, the sound of dozens of rockets, and collapsing buildings have a long-term impact on the region’s population and social media consumers (Farzan, 2021). It has been observed that people demand more transparency and blame many social media companies for a glitch for taking down posts. This situation also increased anger in people all around the world. These all-distressing scenarios are increasing stress and traumatizing impact on social media users as well. One widely shared video on social media is a young Palestinian girl pleading with viewers as she asks: "what do you expect me to do? Fix it? I'm only 10", leaving a profound impression on addressees (Dastagir, 2021). A traumatic situation dramatically impacts a person, whether he is a victim or observer. The population on both sides of the conflict is exposed to traumatic events and explosions. Different researchers carried out their studies on traumatic effects on children or populations in both regions, but unluckily, we cannot find out any latest studies on the traumatizing impact on social media consumers. As tension between Israel and Palestinian militants has been escalated, social media also has emerged as a forum for broadcasting general panic and tension. Footages of annihilation in Gaza, continuous rocket fires, and protests have gone viral on social media sites. This footage on people’s phone screens or social media has amplified the conflict and tension worldwide (Luckhurst, 2021). Social media users started to post these protest clips under the hashtags, and these videos are being shared and viewed by thousands of people worldwide. As Luckhurst (2021) highlighted in one of his news articles in the BBC News, one viral video of Israeli strikes in Gaza, destruction, and crying Palestinian children had been viewed by "more than 44 million views on TikTok". Hence, this indirect exposure to violent news or footage on social media can affect its users mentally and emotionally.
The social cognitive theory posits that an individual learns behavioral responses by observing different models in a social circle (Prot et al., 2017). Similarly, General Aggression Model (GAM) is an integrated model from social learning and Information processing theory that explains how an individual can be influenced by media content (Anderson & Bushman, 2018). GAM describes that exposure to aggressive content on media has a long-term impact on individual behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs. Therefore, exposure to aggressive or violent media content can make them desensitized to real-life violence and may develop an aggressive personality (Martins, 2020). Keeping in view the theoretical models, the phenomenon of exposure to violent content on social media and the negative responses of young people can be best understood.
In the present study, a qualitative approach uses a focus group discussion with participants to highlight the traumatizing impression of the Israel and Palestine conflict on young social media consumers. This exploratory study focused mainly on the traumatic, stressful, or depressing impacts of the Israel and Palestine conflict on young social media users. The study outcomes would be a great addition to the literature review and would give a new feature of these conflicting situations to viewers worldwide. The particular objectives are:
The sample of the study consisted of 45 young people age ranged from 15-28 years. The sample was recruited through a convenient sampling technique from Rawalpindi and Islamabad. Further, participants were divided into six focus groups (7 to 8 in each group). The inclusion criterion was set as only those adolescents who were made part of the current study who were actively using social media such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
The core motivation for carrying out a focus group discussion is that it encourages more depth reflection on different estimations. After having informed consent from the participant, participants were explicated about the study aims and procedure. A Focus Group Guide was developed based on literature review and suggestions by subject matter experts. The moderator organized all focus groups as the main focal point to carry out the focused discussion and ensure everyone participated. The observer task was to be attentive to group interactions and to record field notes. The Focus Group Discussion duration was 90 to 120 minutes. Discussions were audiotaped and transcribed by the researcher.
The whole process of Focus Group Discussion is explained in figure 1.
The data collected from discussions were transcribed. The transcribed data were analyzed by carrying out content analysis (Morgan, 1997), as content analysis permits the analysis of extensive qualitative data and focuses on variation in opinions (Krippendorff, 2018). The initial step was to repeatedly read the transcripts to get immersion and understand participants' main concerns. The next step of the analysis was dividing the text into smaller units such as condensation and then generating codes and grouping those codes into different categories. Furthermore, the researcher identified suitable themes by keeping the codes in mind. For accuracy and precision, themes were reviewed and analyzed by two independent raters, and inter-rater reliability for themes was found to be substantial.
The overview of the analysis process has described in Table 1.
Several interconnected themes related to the traumatizing impact of the Israel and Palestine Conflict on young social media consumers were identified in the focus group discussion. The findings reveal that young social media consumers are experiencing psychological effects by watching this deadly conflict. The themes related to traumatizing impressions of violent social media content related to Israel-Palestine are discussed in Table 2.
Most young social media users claimed that exposure to such traumatic events and news of explosions related to the Israel and Palestine conflict escalate depressive feelings in them. They become depressive and stressed by watching this news on social media.
Aggression and violence
It is already understood that exposure to violent acts or conflict, whether through social media or by experiencing it directly, constantly leaves a profound psychological impact on people's minds. During focus group discussion, most participants highlighted that watching videos of violence and images of dead-on social media also gave rise to aggression and anger. The feeling of helplessness related to this political conflict made them aggressive.
The social media Campaign initiative
During focus group discussion, most participants indicated that through a social media campaign, they tried to deliver their viewpoint and emotion related to the ongoing conflicting situation in Israel and Palestine. They tried to ease their anger and aggression through a social media campaign and requested to peacefully solve this conflict.
Rumination of negative thoughts
During the discussion, many participants specified that they started to think more negatively. As prolong clashes between two regions and the pathetic condition of people have intensified their negative thoughts.
As being humans, we learn to empathize with people who are going through difficult life periods. Same in the case of the Israel and Palestine war, people who belonged to a different culture, region, or religion have shown compassion and concerns. Participants exhibited empathic attitude towards people of both region as war always bring destruction for both sides. They further highlighted that innocent people and children are badly affected on both sides in these clashes or deadly encounters.
Gratitude for own condition
They were thankful for blessings or pieces of stuff we have always brought contentment and peace in life. Waking up in the morning without having any sound of a siren or rocket firing, we need to appreciate such a blissful life. During the focus group discussion, participants also indicated that viewing such heartbreaking footage of devastation made them very depressive, but they also learned to appreciate their peaceful lives.
By indirect exposure to traumatizing events or by viewing violent news on social media can cause people to experience similar symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as indicated by the British Psychological Society ( 2015). Hence, the current study aimed to explore the psychological and traumatizing impact of Israel-Palestine's conflicting situation on young social media consumers. The result of the study highlighted that observing the news or footage of the demolished buildings, dead bodies, recording of firing rockets, lack of medical and mental health facilities have cast a massive and undesirable psychological impact on the viewers. The current study's findings were also consistent with recent research on the effects of screen violence on youth behavior (Anderson et al., 2017). Watching or listening to aggressive content on social media can bring a theatrical change in individual behavior.
As in current study findings, it has been highlighted that participants reported severe depression and distress by watching the devastating images or footage in Gaza. This heart wrecking situation harmed people of both regions and affected social media users all around the world. The role of social media platforms now has become very prominent especially broadcasting tragic and traumatizing events. Once, President Obama said in 2014 that "The world has always been messy." He further pointed out the people's attention to even tiny detail on social media during the string of doom and gloom news cited by (Wayne 2016).
Nowadays, social media platforms have experienced more technological advancements, and one of its "live streaming” features has become widely used on social media. It can be proved by watching live rockets firing, collapsing buildings, and people screaming on Facebook, Twitter, or Tik-Tok. But unluckily, we are still unaware of how this content can be proved sensitive to some viewers. Such as, empirical researchers shared the same opinion as the participants of the current study expressed. The effects of horrifying videos, graphic images, destruction increase high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety among late adolescents (Madan et al., 2014).
Current study findings also underlined feelings of gratitude and thankfulness in participants. After viewing the worst conflicting situation in Israel and Palestine, the study participants expressed that they started to appreciate the harmonious and peaceful lives they have. They also showed a very emphatic attitude toward the survival of this war. These outcomes of the current study are very noteworthy as it is believed that media and screen violence influence sympathy and empathy in people. But these findings are also found to be contradictory to a few of the past studies as this earlier research communicated that long-term indirect exposure to traumatic and violent events can desensitize people, especially adolescents. Hence, this desensitization to the sufferings and agony of other people can decrease empathic attitudes and increase aggression in them (Stockdale, 2015).
Despite teenagers’ innate resilience, traumatic events pose a threat to their wellbeing. Individuals who are exposed to traumatic trials also experience a severe psychological setback. The same goes with indirect exposure, such as news coverage of traumatic events on social media, which impacts viewers’ psychological wellness (Joshi et al., 2008) as results of the current study showed that participants of focus group discussion expressed their distress and depressing thoughts due to continuous indirect exposure to violence and explosions. One reason behind this can be that these indirect exposures have become more frequent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, people, especially the young generation, are spending more time on social media as compared to before lockdown. Therefore, they are consciously exposed to the violent ethical, and conflicting political situation between two regions. Social media is over streaming with aggressive and depressive reactions and comments due to the prevailing contradictory situation between Israel and Palestine. Continuous news or footage on social media, especially Tok-Tok, makes viewers anxious and depressive (Luckhurst, 2021). Although, through social media forums, people started a social media campaign to request a ceasefire and peacefully solve this burring issue.
The current conflicting situation between Israel and Palestine has increased tension and worries among people around the globe. The role of social media cannot be ignored or denied. However, when social media users come across violent and depressing material, it can impact them emotionally and psychologically. Social media platform owners need to focus on this issue and try to play a positive role in prevailing conflicts worldwide. It is just not about the current ethical or political clashes between Israel and Palestine; it is about the deadly encounters and traumatizing material worldwide. Social media consumers can work out on these worldly issues by using a positive approach such as a social media campaign, creating awareness about how social media platforms can positively solve these issues. All concerning authorities need to be more focused on how these conflicts can charge people of all ages psychologically or emotionally.