Brain ‘taken over by bits and pieces’ of short videos: The dangers of video clips on social media

30-second videos can negatively affect Americans' thoughts and habits, spread misinformation

Darren Lyn  | 15.09.2023 - Update : 15.09.2023
Brain ‘taken over by bits and pieces’ of short videos: The dangers of video clips on social media


In this day and age where social media apps such as TikTok, Instagram and YouTube are at millions of Americans' fingertips, the saturation of 20- to 30-second videos about topics ranging from US politics to global warming can be overwhelming to users who get caught up in the madness.

"I definitely see it as an addiction. I can see and hear it around me all the time," said Dilen Lee, an avid user of multiple social media platforms.

"I have a screen time limit for Twitter (X), Instagram and TikTok. But when I reach that limit if I’m watching TikTok or wanting to watch something similar, I find myself going to YouTube Shorts."

Lee told Anadolu that constantly watching countless numbers of short video clips definitely affects her consumption of online content.

“Over the past few years of using TikTok, my attention span has decreased and my need to speed videos up has increased," she said. "I feel like my brain has been taken over by bits and pieces of all the short-form videos I've watched."

Lee is not alone. Millions of Americans feel the same way about the seemingly never-ending amount of rapidly-streaming content that is available on social media.

Anadolu reached out to several people who agree about the effects of these quick-time videos.

"I feel like my attention span has definitely decreased because of the way these social media platforms are structured to get you to view as much content as possible," said Mirya Dila. "I think at times it can make me numb to information."

"TikTok and Instagram videos have definitely shortened my attention span to the point where videos longer than 15 seconds are sometimes taxing for me," said Kaushiki Roy, who noted that the vast array of rapid-fire social media video content can take its toll.

"I have ADHD, which is already difficult to concentrate with, and the constant surrounding technology can make my brain feel overwhelmed a lot," she noted. "That being said, I do feel like a lot of the videos I watch on the apps are valuable to my general knowledge capacity."

That is where the tricky part comes in for those consuming these 20- to 30-second videos that delve into more in-depth and complicated topics such as illegal immigration, vaccine mandates and global warming.

"With social media clips, you haven't quite vetted the information. It's one-dimensional, so you don't know if it's quality information you're getting," media psychologist Joanne Broder told Anadolu. "So you're only being fed what you're given or what you want to learn and you're not getting another perspective."

Broder, who is a member of the American Psychological Association and addresses these topics on a regular basis, said that ingesting all of this information in such a rapid fashion can negatively affect people's understanding of complex and controversial subjects.

"When people watch 20- or 30-second social media videos on topics such as abortion rights, election fraud, global warming, vaccines, gun control, abortion or illegal immigration, they're usually reinforcing what they want to believe, what they already believe," said Broder. "It may not necessarily weaken people's minds or decrease their knowledge, but they're essentially putting themselves in a box, which can limit them from having an open mind and seeing different perspectives."

The social media users Anadolu interviewed felt that they were able to avert misinformation by watching videos from sources they recognize.

"With the growth of news agencies on these apps, it almost feels like I get most of my information from these videos," said Roy. "I see very agenda-driven videos about political, social and economic issues and don’t really know what to believe because they all kind of come at me all at once."

And trusting a source is not necessarily the same as getting the most accurate information.

"I have a lot of doubt in the videos I watch in how truthful they are, unless they come from a news organization," said Lee. "Naturally, if it’s from a credible source, I am quick to take it as factual…so there is that sense of security from them that may be at fault. Not always do I go to double check on whether or not something that was said is real."

That is where Broder believes media literacy is very important. She said people watching these videos need to double-check the information.

"Unfortunately, the videos win. If there is a short, engaging video filled with misinformation, but it agrees with someone's mindset, that's what they're going to go with. I mean, why would they challenge it?" said Broder. "If people are not really digging in to look at the sources where the information is coming from…then ultimately the information they're getting is not completely factual or trustworthy."

"With this endless saturation of social media videos, people scroll and scroll and scroll and watch so quickly that they are not really absorbing anything or are only remembering the parts that they want to remember," Broder continued.

But the person watching the videos must differentiate fact and truth from speculation and opinion, which is not always easy.

"They can impact media literacy levels if people rely solely on them for news and information," said Dila. "Younger generations who have grown up with social media will definitely have worse cognitive recognition and development because of their prolonged exposure to quick-form content."

Ultimately, Broder said it is up to the users themselves to take the time and effort to manage their social media video intake.

"In a perfect world, we would be a lot more literate and understanding about what's out there," she said. "When you're just scrolling mindlessly, it's like gorging food without tasting it. But the bottom line is that unless you vet your information properly, you need to take those short social media videos with a grain of salt."

Broder said the likelihood is that most people will not do that, especially with the bombardment of social media video clips that are available 24 hours a day. And Americans continue to feed their addiction for fear of missing out.

"My deep desire to go and watch either TikToks or YouTube Shorts has become bothersome to me, as I could be spending what becomes hours scrolling doing something better for myself," said Lee. "Now, I almost get overloaded by these videos and it has not affected my mind positively, though I don’t think I’ll stop consuming these types of videos any time soon."

That is the mindset that Broder said Americans must overcome in order to not let social media videos consume and overtake their lives.

"You have to be your own gatekeeper," Broder emphasized. "Limit your screen time…set aside time to unplug during the day to give your brain a break from this rapid fire of endless social media videos."

"Just because it's there doesn't mean we should be consuming it all the time."

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