Chlorine gas attack in Anbar, fighting in Benghazi, Jordanian fighter jet downed in Raqqa, 130 odd school kids massacred in Peshawar, another African American youth shot dead in St Louis, Ebola ravaging West Africa – ‘Oh My God I am living in a chaotic apocalyptic WWIII world’ is the thought that races through anyone after following Al Jazeera or any other international news channel over the day. 24th December’s Slate article titled ‘Why is the world not falling apart?’* puts forward the argument that the world has never been more peaceful and stable than it is today.The authors of the Slate article argues that the media frenzy and their attention seeking behavior has led to the exaggerated reporting of conflicts and crisis around the world – a journalist is never going to report about a country which doesn’t have war. True. Pragmatically anyone would agree that today’s media and social media is filling our newsfeed with so much crisis filled articles and videos leading a news junkie to believe that the world is on the brink of total war. But is it?
Media has always depended on the size of its audience to profit firstly through sales and secondly but most importantly through advertisements. Hence is always tries to catch the attention of the people and increase the audience that it caters to. Even a pamphlet wants to achieve this basic objective. With the advent of the internet the media has gone berserk and it has been getting worse since the birth of Zuckerberg’s Facebook and the whole social media revolution. Being an International Relations student my Google searches are very much about global affairs and my FB likes are for related organizations, coupled with the search content related Newsfeeds of FB, this means that I end up with a stream of news about tragic, evil and disastrous news from around the globe. My senses are overwhelmed and my mind feels like in WWIII. All social media adherents love to see likes and comments on their posts and from personal experience it is apparent that re-shared news item about a tragic event gets more likes than a video about the impacts poaching by IUCN. In a similar sense why would media market something about a country that has ended terrorism – Sri Lanka – after a 30 year civil war when there are another dozen countries which have bombs killing a dozen minimum each day. People have a tendency to watch or read about something that has inflicted pain to others. The week long portrayal of the 130 odd school kids massacred in Peshawar is clear indication of this – I clearly didn’t want to see the blood stained walls of the school but all the news outlets were adamant on making me watch.
Watch a bit of the TV series Newsroom and one would understand how ‘ACN’ struggles to give real news in the ratings addicted news media market; McAvoy keeps on asserting he will not report news items which are backed by tweets and posts for sources – real news must be verified by experts or institutions otherwise chaos could follow and no one wants a panicking urban populace. The sharing and retweets and the constant blogging can create an avalanche of unverified information about a tragic event in an instant as people scurry to join into the likes and comments galore and get some of the spotlight. Just be honest, if you haven’t had many notifications on FB or Twitter for a few days, would you share an article about an interracial peace march in USA or would you share one by a celebrity heavily criticizing the US Police establishment for being racist? Who wants to read about 70s style hippies when raging against the machine is the new cool? News is on retail and must either be cute as a cat video or as tragic as a beheading. Otherwise the news network is going to go bankrupt.
Al Qaeda took ages to gain its global reputation as the devil’s agent but ISIS achieved it in an instant. Al Qaeda had to bring down the World’s Tallest twin buildings to reach its zenith. ISIS just had to keep getting more followers on social media while they kept capturing towns and villages in Iraq that no one knew about. The ratings addicted media just simply followed them. Nothing beats showing what the devil’s agent is capable of doing and how the Kurds are putting everything into defending their homeland almost by divine sanction. Muslim populations typically have a high ratio of youth and this means that many are opportunity starved to reach success even in developed countries. They tend to feel useless and disregarded. When ISIS keeps tweeting and posting about their victories along with the messiahnical words of Baghdadi and the duty of Muslims to revive the Caliphate, they suddenly feel reinvigorated and repurposed. Thus, we have thousands of young foreign fighters joining ISIS from around the world. Whom to blame? None other than the ratings obsessed media further perverted by the rise of social media.
But can we just blame the media corporations? We have adopted them. We keep adding apps on to our smart phones to keep following them and liking their FB pages to get instant updates of more tragedy. Maybe it’s our fault as the consumers. I am guilty as well. But this doesn’t mean I advocate anyone to forget news. It is vital to give us background and context to our lives and how we make decisions. An event a thousand miles away could indirectly harm your investments 6 months later and you don’t want to have been ignorant cause news is too headache inducing. News is vital but we must ensure we don’t get addicted to it. Let us not be news junkies. Do not simply follow one news network. One perspective will blind you. Look at the events from various perspectives and get closer to the reality of the ground situation. And never ever let the news make you understand what has happened, we must ensure we understand the news by taking into account different perspectives. Let’s become smart news consumers – newspapers to twitter – and the news will adapt to its smart audience.
In reply to the Slate article, yes, we live in a world which is more peaceful than ever before especially if you stick by the mere statistics of body bags. Yes it’s stable with no mutually assured destruction talk. But we now have over a hundred thousand UN Peace Keepers in situations where there is no peace to keep – in DRC they have gone on the offensive and in Haiti they are into riot control to stabilize the government. We have more refugees than anywhere since WWII. Russia and USA don’t seem to be sticking with their nuclear treaties which heavy rearmament schemes. China’s military rise and the US pivot to Asia is causing sparks that might cause a fire at any moment. The economies are weak and brittle. The last time that happened we went through WWII. The world is more interconnected than ever before but countries are not 100% globalized and interdependent as such. Everything on a state level looks fine but that doesn’t mean it’s going to all fine. Bad economies always lead to governments utilizing nationalism to keep the unemployed and disgruntled masses happy and unrebellious. The China-Japan relationship is at such a dilemma – nationalism is high but interdependence is also high. Russia’s economy is going into protectionism with the sanctions and Putin will keep bloating patriotism and military prowess to keep people content. I smell trouble.
One could call me pessimistic but I am just being pragmatic. I am not letting media make me think the world is falling apart from the tragedies happening around the world. But that doesn’t mean I’ll be complacent and assume the world is just fine. Everything has a breaking point and international political stability is moving towards its threshold. The environment reached its breaking point long time ago, hence the climate change. The masses are not interested in the environment and no one wants them to be. Media is not going to pour out information about something that isn’t causing a ratings rise. While terrorists are not going to cause the end of the world, climate change will. An unstable world is not in the news, it is in the weather.