In the old days, you had to go looking for crushing existential horror. Now, you can just wake up and glance at literally any social media site, and a bevy of it will be waiting for you. That's where Google Chrome extension Sadblock comes in. It helps you out by cleaning up sad, triggering, and sometimes just plain annoying news from your social media feeds.
Sadblock will help you "take back control of your social feeds," according to the extension's website. It does this by allowing you to block certain types of posts from your social media. "Current categories include sad stories, political posts, climate change posts, and those that include common trigger words," the site says. You can download Sadblock for free from the Chrome Web Store.
The extension allows you to block these various kinds of content wholesale, and its multi-site approach appears to be a step up from other blockers, most of which exist for one service only and require you to add in your own blacklisted keywords. For example, Tumblr Savior allows users to filter their Tumblr feed, but users must manually add words and tags they want to see blocked, like "death" or "Trump." Twitter application TweetDeck has a Mute function, but also requires you to manually input words, phrases, and links you want banned from your feed.
Sadblock's range allows you to block upsetting political content, or videos of abused animals, or stories about certain celebrities. Its functionality allows people to block things that annoy or mildly upset them, but it also allows people who are triggered by seeing news about sexual assault to avoid it completely.
And if you're leery of an app that allows people to ignore what's happening in the world, Sadblock's creators address your concern on the extension's website. "Do you really need to read about puppies being burned alive, or the last remaining rhinos on earth being poached by terrible people to remain informed?" it states. "At Sadblock we trust you already know the planet is struggling and that people all around the world are dying in terrible ways, and we won’t judge you for wanting to turn off the sad for a little while," the site adds. "Someone will bring it up at the water cooler tomorrow anyway."
Basically, Sadblock is intended to help people unwind and take a mental breather away from the constant influx of horrible information. It's not intended to help people ignore reality.
And there's information to back up the idea that something like Sadblock may be needed. Psychologist Dr. Graham Davey told Huffington Post that "[n]egative news can significantly change an individual’s mood — especially if there is a tendency in the news broadcasts to emphasize suffering and also the emotional components of the story. [...] Viewing negative news means that you’re likely to see your own personal worries as more threatening and severe, and when you do start worrying about them, you’re more likely to find your worry difficult to control and more distressing than it would normally be."
Sadblock is fairly new and it runs on algorithms, so of course it isn't a perfect panacea. Lifehacker reporter Leigh Anderson tried Sadblock for a week on Facebook and Twitter, and graded it "a solid B." It's good at what it does, Anderson said, but there are a few flaws. For one, "the stories do flicker across your screen for an instant, sending tiny jabs of news into your eyeballs," Anderson explained. She added that, "Sadblock does reduce what you see that's troubling, but also inexplicably deletes innocuous posts and leaves a lot of distressing ones" like the recent New York Times profile of a Nazi sympathizer, and the story of the man who died because he couldn’t afford his insulin.
When I loaded Sadblock into Chrome on my laptop, I noticed the time delay Anderson mentioned, particularly when it came to Twitter. The extension seemed to work more quickly on Facebook, though it did not appear to block troubling headlines from the Trending sidebar. The extension did not work on TweetDeck, which I often use instead of browser Twitter.
Despite the lack of Trending sidebar blockage, Facebook through Sadblock's algorithmic eyes is a pretty nice place. I feel like I saw a lot more posts from friends about their daily lives, their pets, and their kids, as opposed to angry political posts fraught with comments from people dehumanizing trans folks or victim-blaming sexual assault survivors, as is the usual on my feed. For that alone, I give Sadblock major props.
The extension is currently only on version 1.4, and was just updated Nov. 12. It's sure to get smarter and more capable as it's further developed, hopefully nixing the issues I experienced. And though the app is imperfect, it's important to recognize that Sadblock is still an incredibly useful tool for people who need to continue to engage with social media for work or companionship and want to protect their mental health while doing so.