November 18, 2015

Why Some Tragedies Go “Viral” & Many Remain Unseen.


Following the devastating attack on Paris on Friday 13th 2015 I have seen various reports and read many arguments and debates on social media posts that claim we focus more on one tragic situation than we do on another.

Of course, this is true. Certain traumatic news stories make it to the top of the click list while others are “seemingly” ignored.

However, it isn’t all quite so cut and dried.

Just last night, 32 people were killed and 80 wounded during an overnight attack by Nigerian-based jihadist terror group Boko Haram. Unfortunately, this story will not make it to the top of our social media pages and unless we read newspapers or watch news broadcasts, we will likely not be aware.

Even though Boko Haram consistently carry out these types of attacks, these events are something that don’t seem to gather the same momentum on social media as ones closer to home do.
Boko Haram—also known as Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP)—claimed responsibility for 6,644 killings in 2014.

ISIS are believed to have been responsible for 6,073 deaths during this same period.

ISIS are regularly in the limelight, but Boko Haram’s destruction seems to be almost invisible to the eye of the West.

Although we believe ISIS to be the deadliest terrorist threat, Boko Haram is equally, if not more of a concern.             

According to The Institute for Economics and Peace, in 2014 the total number of people who were killed by terrorist groups reached 32,658, an increase of 80 per cent compared to 2013, the largest increase ever recorded. The areas that most affected by terrorism are Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria with Iraq suffering the most accounting for 78% of all deaths recorded. Iraq lost 9,929 people to terrorism in 2014, the highest number ever recorded for a single country.

With so many terrorist attacks and fatalities, we might question why it is that we turn our focus to some places and not others. News agencies report on all events, but it is us—the end receiver—who makes the choice as to whether we share it to further raise awareness. 

Since the year 2000, the West has only witnessed 3% of the attacks by alleged terrorist groups. 70% of these attacks over the last ten years have been carried out by what is known as “lone wolf” perpetrators–political extremists, nationalists, racial and religious supremacists. Although many of us believe it to be the case, Islamic fundamentalists were not the main organizer of these incidents.

So, why do we focus our attention more on incidents closer to home or ones that we can seemingly relate to compared to others farther afield? It’s not that one life matters more to us than another; it’s more the case that one event shocks us and alerts us to danger more than the other.

I’m quite sure that almost all of the people who shared the incident in Paris would care equally about a human life if that human life was brought to the forefront of our attention. Similarly, we would care equally about tragic deaths.

The main difference is that we know more about one than we do the other.

Paris is a city that many people have travelled to, if not, most of us have heard a lot about it and it is somewhere we might have placed on our “to visit” list for the future. It feels familiar to us. When we hear about a tragedy that has taken place somewhere that we can closely relate to, we have a greater understanding of it. We also have a greater fear. That familiarity brings a close connection. We have a sharp awakening that jolts us to think that we could have been at that place, at that time.

Or a similar place. We may know people who were visiting there and who may have been one of the victims.

In a way, it’s similar to the reason why we might become more closely involved and therefore relate more to a killing that takes place in our neighborhood or in the house next door to us than we would to one that happens in a city a few hundred miles away. The closer the connection we have, the more fear and resonance that we experience.

I’m not saying that this is right or wrong—it’s our human primal instinct to be more aware of what danger is in our immediate surroundings compared to what might seem like a distant threat.

It doesn’t mean that one life is more valuable than another.

All life is equal and it is heartbreaking that any innocent life is lost to mindless killings.

But, the reality is that the closer we relate, the more we are compelled to take action to find out more information, to offer assistance, to make sure ourselves and our loved ones are safe and also to do what we can to prevent the expansion of the problem. This does lead to an outpouring of grief, just as it would if we knew the finer details about any tragedy.

When we share something, it can quickly snowball and gain momentum. Our friends, family and colleagues see it and as they then become aware, they relate and share it too. Very quickly an article that starts with just a few shares can spread like wildfire over the Internet.

I honestly don’t believe that it’s only about compassion and that we care more for about one event than we do another. I think that everyone who has compassion for the victims in Western attacks has the same amount of compassion for the victims everywhere else in the world.

I just believe we become more closely integrated when we can relate more.  

Sharing news stories and voicing our concerns is not going to stop the killings. Unfortunately, much of our outrage, fear and heartache compounds these terrorist groups to continue their plight and pledge more to their cause. The majority of terrorists aim to divide the world, bring fear to it’s inhabitants as ultimately they believe that their faith or belief system will eventually win out and they can destroy and destruct anything or anyone that does not align with their views.

If we want to do more, if we want to create change we absolutely have to eliminate the fear that these terrorist groups want to infuse into our daily lives and we have to show compassion for each and every life lost, regardless of the location.

Whilst individually we cannot change the world, collectively we can.

In the UK we are 184 times more likely to die of a homicide than we are through terrorism and in the US we are 64 times more likely. We need to focus our attention to our homes, to our neighborhoods, to our cities, countries and also out to the rest of the world.

Peace begins within ourselves. Each and everyone us us can make a difference. If we see someone struggling, in pain, or someone who is intimidated, misunderstood, threatened or in fear, we can reach out, show compassion, understanding, acceptance and rid our societies of all the hatred and anger. We can stop dividing our immediate social circles and societies and stop ostracizing or distancing from cultures or ideologies different to our own. Whenever we separate or disconnect from one another we are giving terrorists exactly what they want.

We can choose not only to raise awareness to what is happening in the world, but to do something about it. Donate food, clothes, financial help, educate ourselves and one another so we are not all afraid of those whose cultures are different, freely accept one another, reduce the scaremongering and the rage we feel when horrific events take place and we share alternative views, we can reach out to one another with love and understanding rather than judge one another for perceiving that we care more about one situation than we do another.

There is suffering everywhere. We can eliminate it little by little when we focus first on ourselves to heal ourselves and find harmony and then we can radiate these positive vibrations outwards.

There is so much we can do to create peace.

We need to live and let live. We cannot control terrorism but we can control what is happening in our own minds and we can express our compassion through actions.

It may seem so little, but collectively, it can eventually be enough to change the world.






Social Media in the Wake of Tragedy: Solidarity or Sounding Board?




Author: Alex Myles 

Editor: Renée Picard

Image: English106 at Flickr


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