What is the world coming to? It’s a question we often ask when viewing how the world is becoming a more dangerous place. Dangerous, at least that is what we are being told through the various media outlets available. Recently, the UK public will have read how there is a high chance of a terrorist attack on home soil, ISIL continue to hold a strangle on swaths of territory in the middle east; North Korea is testing nuclear weapons and Russia is ready to up military action in our national waters. Stories such as these are communicated to us on a daily, even hourly, basis through both new mediums such as Facebook and Twitter, along with the more traditional broadcasters.
It is due to the previously unseen levels of danger present in the world today, governments are taking serious actions to monitor everything we do. Sorry, I mean they are taking protective measures to ensure our safety… In reality, legislation such as The Snoopers Charter (The Communications Data Bill) is an attack on civil liberties which everyone interested in democracy should be fighting. However, society does not always think in terms of the reality.
I often see Facebook posts from individuals sitting back and panicking about the terrible place our world is coming to. They ‘share’ terrible stories that may or may not be true, which detail of the horrors happening across our world. Yet, it’s important to realise that throughout history human beings have been killing, torturing and assaulting each other. This is by no means a new phenomenon. Today, contrary to the overwhelming amount of media coverage given to our self-destructive tendencies, human on human conflict is dwindling. Steven Pinker makes this argument in his book ‘The Better Angel’s of our Nature’. He shows that death counts through war and murder worldwide are down, as are serious assaults and rape crimes. So why is it that we as a society are so panicked by the spectre of constant danger around the corner that we are willing to have all our personal communications intercepted.The media has a huge role in public opinion and I believe that the following two reasons have majorly contributed to the current fears in society.
With the rise of social media has come a new platform for both established news outlets and individuals to have their say on current affairs (this author included). A study by Pew Research Center shows that 63% of Americans now use Twitter and Facebook as a source for news. Whilst the fact that the majority of this news can be unedited, the more important topic is the immediate availability of information in general. Going back just 20 years, the way in which news stories were reached the public and were communicated was completely different.
We can now find any story from around the world at speed. Search for any topic and Google will happily throw up numerous recent news articles. The speed and ease of finding out information has never previously existed. For example, 20 years ago, if a similar terrorist attack happened in France to the recent Paris travesty, then individuals would have only known via their morning news paper, the 5 o’clock news report, or word of mouth. With such a major story running, editors would have cut out other stories completely to provide extra details. If you missed the news that day, you might have carried on in ignorance of the attack.
With our deeply connected modern lives this ignorance is not possible. Sign into Facebook or Twitter and you are immediately faced with this news and 100 different opinions on it, along with details of every other horrific event to take place that day. Smart phones will push notifications onto your home screen of anything you have missed and advertising algorithms ensure you see any similar stories to what you have already read. In short, Social Media has made all the information readily accessible where in the past it simply was not available.
Traditional Media Ratings
As more people become connected on Social Media, traditional outlets are fighting for both their ratings and profits. Let’s not lie to ourselves, violence and death sells. Broadcasting companies such as the BBC, Sky, Fox and CNN have no fear in repeating horrifying scenes on their 24/7 news channels. The papers will happily have shocking front pages in an attempt to have you pick them up to purchase. It is no coincidence that more time is now given to shocking stories in mainstream news reporting. These are the stories which will keep viewers engaged.
What can we do?
With the vast amount of information now accessible, along with the fact that long standing media outlets will do their best to find the most shocking stories possible, we consume a vast amount of negative information daily. In the past, due to time of technological restrains, the sheer quantity of stories will not have been broadcast to the general public. Whilst I hole heartedly believe in the benefits of open information for all, we must learn to temper our fears.
We must view media reporting in context of the modern era, understanding that we are now presented with vast amounts of personalised content. Further, by better understanding the history of humanity rather than glorifying it, we may come to realise we are now safer than ever.