Ferguson, ISIS and the Ice Bucket Challenge: What Happens When We Choose Our News
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.
Depending on how you curate your news, you may or may not have seen a version of this image hundreds of times.
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.
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?