Hope for China’s “doomscrollers”


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BEIJING: “Tired. How far will I go and where?”
“The world, after all, was still a place of bottomless horror.”
“Sorry for being a human.”
The depressing and demoralizing comments were posted under songs on NetEase Cloud Music, a leading Chinese music streaming service with more than 800 million users. In recent years, “doomscrolling” and “doomsurfing” have emerged as new words to describe the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing. Chinese netizens said many NetEase Cloud Music users get lost in dim views of school, career and relationships, dubbing the app “NetEase Depression Cloud.”
In response to the trend, the company has officially launched a campaign to provide emotional support and counselling to users who are struggling with psychological issues.
A survey on music streaming platforms by Aurora Mobile last year showed that up to 83.5 percent of users of NetEase Cloud Music are under 25 and another report on mobile apps showed NetEase Cloud Music tops the list as the most influential music app among millennials.
“I always enjoy reading comments on my favorite songs,” said an 11th grade high school student who doesn’t want to reveal his name. “I like upbeat and witty quotes about life, but I often identify with those sad vibes.”
Japanese writer Osamu Dazai who took his own life is one of the most quoted authors on the music app. Quotes from his No Longer Human frequently appear and get “likes.”
Last August, a Chinese data company analyzed 444,054 popular comments posted for 48,400 songs in Chinese. Data showed that although joy and happiness are the top two feelings users expressed in comments, negative feelings were all the rest, including loneliness, pain, fear, heartbreak, depression, anger and anxiety.
The topic went viral after NetEase announced that it will enlist experts and more than 10,000 volunteers to respond to depressing comments around the clock. It also introduced a new function for users to send virtual hugs by swiping their fingers together. The company said it will regulate music reviews and crack down on fabricated sad stories, which could harm people who suffer from depression.
Depressing or even suicidal notes are not rare on social media sites. In 2012, a college student committed suicide after posting a suicidal note on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform. More than 1 million comments have been posted on the note and the number is still growing.
Many post their own bitter, disheartening or suicidal feelings on the post.
Zhu Tingshao, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, launched a system called Proactive Suicide Prevention Online in 2017. It uses artificial intelligence to map the relationship between text content and suicide ideas from Weibo texts, and can automatically send private messages for psychological intervention.
At Zhu’s office, two computers receive and process the information of possible suicide victims 24 hours a day. As of last year, the system has sent messages to 20,000 to 30,000 Weibo users with suicidal thoughts and received responses to about half.
A user once told Zhu’s team that she was in despair, but the message she received let her know that there were still people who cared. “So even if no one replies, we still have to do it as long as it is useful to one person,” said Zhu.