Ferguson, ISIS and the Ice Bucket Challenge: What Happens When We Choose Our News

icebucketchallenge.jpg
Depending on how you curate your news, you may or may not have seen a version of this image hundreds of times.
The other day, while talking with a friend, I referenced how some media outlets had botched coverage of Ferguson, half expecting said friend to agree with me. Instead, he asked me what Ferguson was.

I'm used to this kind of interaction: most people I know don't spend all day on the Internet reading every newspaper and blog's version of the same story, whether it be about politics, sports, music, pop culture, activism or some combination there of. But to not be aware of one of the most important civil rights dramas to take place in the United States in the past couple of decades (and something that is being reported on daily, more than two weeks after Michael Brown was murdered,) seemed embarrassingly ignorant to me. How could you not know about the news in your own country affecting your own country?

Because we choose what we see. We curate our own newsfeed and control our own current events awareness, and it is to our detriment.

See also: On the Death of Robin Williams and Why Sadness and Depression Are Not the Same

Sure, we've always been able to choose our news; from what television station we watch to which opinion columnist we go to for our favored angle, we are always choosing what to see and hear. But through sites like Facebook and Twitter, we are for the first time really able to see everyone's news sources laid out in front of us.

Yes, Facebook does ultimately decide which posts you see and which posts get seen (see the video above) -- but still, in these past few weeks, I have been surprised by the lack of voices engaging in conversations about serious situations like Ferguson and the bloody trail ISIS is leaving (James Foley's murder was particularly hard to deal with, because news outlets felt it necessary to show his gruesome execution over and over, and continue to do so.)

I see my white activist friends (myself included) posting and re-posting "12 Ways to Be a White Ally to Black People" or "Self-Segregation: Why It's So Hard for Whites to Understand Ferguson" or "I Don't Know How to Talk to White People About Ferguson." While my friends have the best of intentions, it is hard to believe they are reaching the people who could benefit from these conversations in the first place.

With Facebook, even if a story like this does show up in your newsfeed, you have the choice to scroll right by it. This is, of course, what happens, because the same ten of us end up having the same conversation we've been having since Ferguson began -- sharing facts, planning strategies on how we can be most effective in this fight for civil rights for all people and in general, getting educated in front of each other. But it is the same ten or twelve folks who continually engage. No one else.

Meanwhile, engagement photos and baby photos and gross amateur food photos are still being passed around and "liked" like wildfire. Which is perfectly okay. But sometimes I want to interrupt a thread of people talking about how much they love pizza or their favorite yoga studio and ask if they've seen Melissa Harris-Perry's "The Deaths of Black Men in America."

In person, the transition from a conversation about wedding photos to racial injustice would be much smoother, but on the Internet, it is often just a bunch of blasts of information competing for three-second attention spans.

Then the problem becomes one of angry competition and scolding -- news stories are pitted against each other for relevance, creating not a conversation at all, but a reason for people to crawl even further back into their Internet holes where their news is comfortable for them. I saw many posts complaining that Robin Williams' death was getting too much coverage in the wake of Ferguson -- but how and why are we trying to compare these things?



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29 comments
muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

The danger is when fauKKKs viewers confuse radical propaganda with truth.  This leads to foul tempered, uninformed people.  Limpballs calls the stupid intelligent, and the stupid believe the lie.  Next thing you know, the foolish are voting against their interests and the interests of America. 

A Chris Heismann
A Chris Heismann

Roberts point about saturation is a large part of the problem. There is simply too much news for one person to pay attention to, let alone sift out all the sources for each story. So the natural human inclination is to narrow the focus of what they pay attention to. I think where this has become truly detrimental is not in the fact that people ignore the news entirely, or that they get their stories from only a couple sources, but that international and national news is where they choose to focus, rather than their local communities. This further leads to a disconnect within communities - it is now actually easier for people to discuss things like Ferguson, ISIS and what the POTUS had for breakfast with people around the world than it is to discuss whether or not the city building another park or the local PD acquiring surplus military equipment is with your neighbors.

Robert Shea
Robert Shea

I study media, and I find it so sad that there is such a lack of critical awareness in all of the sources of information we actively consume. We are so saturated in the digital age that real meaning and context fly by the vast majority. Some of the folks leaving comments only prove this point further. You ask why it's difficult to hold conversations on important topics in society, and half of the replies simply attack the publication it came from. "Hur dur, Facebook isn't news". Well to a major demographic online, it is. The rest is trapped behind a subscription paywall. Facebook is a poor platform, but it's the medium of choice at the moment. I could keep writing about this, but I'll cut myself off. Not before I recommend enjoying the works of Bill Hicks on news media, Neil Postman on how Huxley was closer than Orwell, and how social media is anti-social. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm late to my usual postings of cats, hating on hipsters, porn, and bacon.

Adam Aedro Drotar
Adam Aedro Drotar

I'm glad you finally chose to write about something socially significant Westword but the writer is almost as clueless about these events as the general public being criticized.

foad
foad

the irony is so hilarious here, 17yr old level "writing" about "news" in buzzfeed I mean westword when all this person talks about is her facebook feed

Jamie Taylor
Jamie Taylor

Does hate reading conservative family members' links count as stepping out of my comfort zone? :) I know it doesn't, but lately I've been more inclined to use these posts as a way to start a conversation. The hard part is figuring out a way to do that without causing a family feud!

Clin Leonel Flores Rivera
Clin Leonel Flores Rivera

I believe this is simple, is all about what ordinary people desires. It is the only way they know to keep moving on not about finding the truth.

Amanda McGregor
Amanda McGregor

I find it extremely difficult in today's media to get a story that hasn't been spun from one side or another. I avoid news information not presented by an unbiased source. Sorry, Westword, but you have been and always will be an alternative paper that is not about providing breaking news, but is a great resource for entertainment and local social commentary. It's difficult to find the unbiased story, and often impossible. The problem is not what people choose to expose themselves to, but the fact that the media has become so undesirable that it's better to avoid the crap stories that pop up in a Facebook feed. There are dozens of news stories each day that are avoided, and even more that are conveniently buried or ignored. The sergeant first class that killed herself openly and aggressively in a military office building has gotten no attention compared to the ongoing coverage Ferguson got that same day. Why are the issues of veterans not as important as a town in turmoil? Why is it easier to push aside 22 suicides by a group of people a day for the continued discussion of a race struggle? Both are important issues in our culture, but the media outlets have focused so much on ratings and twitter that the issues don't matter anymore. "Let's see how many tweets we can get off this story. We must always be #trending." Journalism isn't a very remarkable thing anymore, and that is heartbreaking considering the real journalists that still exist are completely lost in this mess. The reality is that even outside social media people "bubble" themselves from the news because it's a losing battle to get information even though it's all constantly at out fingertips.

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

Hey Brie, when your publication is as bigoted, prejudiced and leans so far to the loopy left that you need support to stand, it is not called news.  It is called opinion.


But as long as you are not trying to kid anyone .......               right?

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

Yeah, then there is fauKKKs "news," the only "news" outlet that has gone to court to protect their right to lie.  Yet far to many fauKKKs viewers watch propaganda with the crazed devotion of cultists.

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

@foad Yeah, but it's still better than fauKKKs "news."

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

Yeah, there is the fauKKKs version of the story, then there are those mean old facts, and FACTS ARE LIBERAL.

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

@fishingblues Like fauKKKs, the only so called "news" outlet to go to court to protect their RIGHT TO LIE.

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

@fishingblues @muhutdafuga A bunch of cultists listening to liars lie...now that's an ugly thought.

Yes, fishingrainbow, I realize you've not had a thought in some time.

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

@GuestWho @fishingblues Isn't she the one with the earned PhD?  Isn't limpballs the dropout?

PhDs are for Liberals, dropout hillbilly heroine users for the cult. 

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@muhutdafuga 


Damn, so everyone but you is a cultist?


JAZUS!  You sure are stupid and delusional. 

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@muhutdafuga @GuestWho @fishingblues


So, in your narrow-minded, bigoted, little brain, there are only two choices -- Madcow and Limbaugh?


If ignorance is bliss, you must be in ecstasy.        

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

@fishingblues @muhutdafuga @GuestWho Owning you doesn't bring about ecstasy.

When did I say those were the only choices?  I only stated a scientific fact, Liberals are intelligent, people like you are not.

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@muhutdafuga 


I regret to inform you that you are clearly suffering from head in ass disease.  And as big as that ass is, there is room for a lot more.  

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@DonkeyHotay  


THAT'S IT?  That's all you have?  I kick your punk ass every single day and this is all you can come up with?

You pathetic, sniveling little piss ant.


I'll tell you what stinky, if you cry "UNCLE", I'll consider giving you a break.

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

@fishingblues @GuestWho Still no response to the PhDs for Liberals, dropouts for the cult and how it leads to conservative stupidity.

Or is it that stupidity among conservatives lead to their dumbed down propaganda disguised as news?


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