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  • Writer's picture The Vindicator

How to Read Bad News

“If, as Aristotle said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living,’ so, in today’s life, “the unexamined culture is not worth living in.” -George Gerbner

Whether some might want to admit it or not, we are living a in a digital age where we must change the way we look at incoming information. The influx of technology, internet speed and social media has changed the way we watch the news, read stories and ultimately how we empathize with tragic events happening in our world. When I got a notification from my news app about the Paris attack, my heart sank for many reasons, besides the obvious ones.

Along with my extreme, confusing shock and grief, I also felt dread. I felt dread for the response from the people reading the story at home and struggling to understand the situation. I dreaded the swarm of misconceptions and lack of in depth analysis that I will be seeing in the next few hours here at home. I’m hearing more and more of how people are reminding us of the sheer power of “The Media”, but people need to remember that we, the readers and the listeners are ultimately who can be in power if we learn how to infer situations correctly. And with violent and tense situations such as terrorist attacks, there needs to be a better way that we are reading bad news.

In the light of recent events, it’s incredibly important that during these awful happenings, we are bracing ourselves with the proper knowledge and information gathering abilities. For many of us who are far away from places where the attacks are happening, whether it’s in Paris, Lebanon, Syria, etc, it becomes hard to know what the right thing is to do in order to help. Along with giving donations, participating in government, or simply standing in solidarity, we must simply help these situations by being educated as citizens of the world. We are living in a world where every major event and happening is recorded, replayed and posted online and is available for millions to see. And our reactions play a very crucial role in how our culture is shaped. In the horrible reality of terrorist attacks and violent catastrophes, it is important to stand in solidarity with flags, colors and poetic words, but it’s equally important to be aware of the information that is coming at us from all ends, and knowing how to absorb it.

There is absolutely a wrong way to read and react to the news, especially in response to events like these. The spread of terror is as scary as the spread of misinformation. The people who did this know that the world would hear about it, and they want different groups of people to turn against each other and start wars based on generalizations. And ultimately, that’s how they will become stronger. Believe it or not, there is a lot we can do — by simply understanding the world around us and using our modern advances to shape the way we view the world.

We must do whatever we can to help, even if it’s by simply practicing good media literacy:

I. Analyze, Don’t Just Absorb

During tragic events like these, it is very easy to jump to conclusions. Everyone is mad and up in arms, everyone wants to help, and everyone is reading the news because it is everywhere. Everyone wants to read the news and absorb as much as they can so they can be in the know. The rapid speed at which information is sent and received in our world is a blessing and a curse. The faster information moves, the faster people’s opinions are shaped as well. News is a part of everyday life as it’s being integrated to our social media platforms i.e. Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, etc. We must remind ourselves to not just absorb all the information coming at us, but critically analyze it as well. That means reading the whole article, not just the headline and making fair and objective assumptions about the things we are reading.

Analyzing the news also means reading the background. Events like these aren’t just independent incidents that poof out of nowhere and disappear after the broadcast is over. There is always a backstory and always a lot of information that will still need to be followed up. Context is everything. Whether you like it or not, reading the news is more than just reading the news. It’s also about doing your homework about the topic being shown as well as the news source you are reading. This is especially crucial when watching/reading stories about catastrophic or violent events such as these.

II. Don’t Assume

Especially in events like these, generalizations and assumptions become a serious threat to the situation at hand and how it is handled. For example, the attacks on Paris were immediately followed by far too many islamophobic and anti-muslim posts for me to count. Racist generalizations are the last things needed at this already very tense time. We may not even mean to make these generalizations at first, because we are so used to a certain way of thinking in our society. But we must urge ourselves to unlearn our racism and learn to not be lazy when thinking about the why, when, and how of certain events.

Along with using the example of terrorist attacks, there needs to be a change in how we look at certain groups that are committing these horrendous acts. In the case of terrorist attacks by ISIS, there are countless myths and assumptions overflowing in the media that people are misinterpreting. These misinterpretation ultimately do not help solve the problem one bit. For example, making the blind assumption that terror groups like ISIS are mainly made out of “crazy extremists” is far from accurate. Sure, we would like to think that. But as crazy as these people are in one sense, it’s important to realize the reality that these are trained professionals with clear goals in mind. The sooner we put generalizations and assumptions aside, the sooner we’ll be able to really understand the enemy we are dealing with and what steps we need to take.

 —  “The 7 Biggest myths about ISIS”

”Muslims Launch Powerful Social Media Campaign Against ISIS With #NotInMyName

III. Question The News

One big part of reacting to the news is knowing how to criticize it. It’s also important to take notice of the things that certain news sources aren’t showing you and why. This ties in with the recent social media campaigns going around highlighting the fact that countless other attacks that happen in non-western countries tend to be. The attacks on Paris have brought into light a very big issues on western media and how it presents certain tragic events, depending on where the events are happening. Not many people were aware of the similair attacks happening in places like Lebanon around the same time. Additionally, the media usually forces us to ignore the atrocities that are happening in places like Syria every day. It’s hard for us to take notice, or even care to take notice until it is brought into a spotlight of a Western country. That’s why it’s important that with the event of the Paris attacks, it’s always good to use this as a time to take notice of the other places that are experiencing terrors as well. It’s almost impossible to be aware of all the atrocities, but as long as we are looking further than what the media is sometimes selectively showing us, we can make sure we are fixing the way we grieve for global tragedies.

 —  Beruit:

Additionally, it’s also seeing the spread of blatantly false information. We all fall victim to fake articles and inaccurate news reports, but with the addition of social media and how it amplifies these stories, becomes a scary problem.

Reliable sources:*

Paris attacks: latest updates - BBC News

The BBC’s Hugh Schofield in Paris notes that the French authorities are not certain about the identity of one of the…

News | VICE | United States

News in VICE’s online den of nefarious activities, investigative journalism, and enlightening

Breaking News, World News & Multimedia

The New York Times: Find breaking news, multimedia, reviews & opinion on Washington, business, sports, movies, travel…

*Reliable doesn’t always mean correct. It just means that they have generally accurate facts and figures about events — but this does not necessarily mean they are unbiased or can be mistaken. Read carefully any sources. But first go to the ones that you know at least don’t have fabricated information.

IV. Educate Others

Some of us are more educated with certain events and issues than others, and when we see certain people posting inaccurate information, there’s usually an urge to correct them. As much as we want others to understand the news better, we mustn’t undermine people’s posts on social media of them mourning for these attacks. Help them get educated and learn more.

Yes, it can be frustrating watching our western media morph the way we look at certain tragedies, compared to others. But it’s important not to attack people that are simply grieving and are not seeing the whole picture right away. It’s possible to send a link and make an informative, non-confrontational comment to help the person understand the situation better. The entire world is in pain right now, and that’s a good thing, because it shows that at least people care. A simple profile picture, as insignificant as it is in the grand scheme of things, shows that at least the person has taken the first step in learning, being aware, and empathizing with the situation. Don’t tell people their feelings aren’t valid, because the fact that they care in the first place is a good first step. Every bit helps. This, i think is better than apathy.


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