I was asleep when the Boston bombs went off. I woke still hazy with flu to see my daily news feeds alert me that two bombs had gone off in Boston. Also, Iraq was hit by a death toll of 50 as Iraqis made their way to voter boxes. I looked up a few news sources to verify that the information was right and then sank back in my flu driven daze thinking about the implications of the day’s events and what this might mean for the rest of the year. What a bloody start to the day.
It was not long before my Twitter client lit up with the usual condolences and prayers. What was more interesting this time was the surge of tweets about how Boston should not be the only city in focus. These kinds of tweets usually do not occur within a few hours of the incident and would naturally come after a day or so when the initial frenzy dies down. I also witnessed some arguments over Twitter from people hailing from across the globe. The joy of internet driven social media is that you get so many perspectives with nearly no effort. Today, these opposing viewpoints sought dominance and influence in at a rate I had not witnessed before.
Balance, What Balance?
The biggest gripe I saw was that there were other large attacks that occurred very closely timed with the Boston attacks. More people had been killed and injured in areas that are in a more needy state. Why did the media focus on America? Why did Twitter focus on America? Why was #prayforboston trending and not #prayforiraq and the like?
We grew up in a world preaching equality, at least I did. Every life (and soul) is precious and God loves everyone equally. You have my Christian parents to thank for some really pushy lessons on equality and justice. I would therefore be a prime candidate to join the chorus of voices calling for the spotlight to be shone on other countries that were undergoing possibly tougher times that the resource rich United States. I didn’t.
I have been taught that everyone is an equal. I know of no human being who is able to treat everyone equally.
The gap between realism and idealism remains large. As much as I have been taught that everyone is an equal, I know of no human being who is able to treat everyone equally. The fifty lives lost in Iraq hours before the three in Boston are in no way comparable. There is no equal, greater than or less than in this equation. Each life is unique with a different value proposition placed by every individual.
I disagree when people play the numbers game. Three may be less than thirty or even fifty but no one has the authority to make a judgement call based on numbers. I do not personally know any of the deceased but what I can be sure of is that each life is missed dearly by those who cared for them and that is what matters. We are humans, what matters to us is what affects us both directly and indirectly. Our interests and prayers today may be focused on one that is not even in the news but does it matter? Must showing concern for one come with prerequisites of showing greater concern for other things deemed more important by others?
For those who mentioned Iraq, Afghanistan Somalia and other ‘hot topic’ nations. I suggest you turn your eyes to those in Africa and even North Korea (which has been a ‘hot topic’ for a while) who have not been coping with famine and plague and have lost many more lives. But who am I to tell you who you should focus on? Do bigger numbers mean higher priority? The world doesn’t work that way. It is condescending to treat human lives as an argument of numbers.
The events that unfolded today are sad and tragic and arguing about who to be more concerned with is childish and low.
News Coverage: Why America?
Why America took the center stage of news reports today is very simple. They mattered most to the readers of those news agencies. Where demand is, supply will meet it. You decided to indulge yourself with news agencies that have their interests first in the West before the rest. You got on Twitter where a large proportion of its users are U.S. based as compared to any other country. You went on news sites and I can bet that most of them were U.S. news agencies. Can you blame them for a ‘Western Media’ bias? It is pretty obvious that America means to them more than it does to those who were unhappy about the bias.
The good news is – there are other sources out there and it does not start and end at Aljazeera. There are good alternative news sites that are reliable and credible that help bring to light stories from deeper parts of Asia and the Middle East. There are African news sources if balance is very much important to you. Do you read them? If you don’t, why are you complaining about a Western media bias?
There are many non Western based news agencies that are reliable and credible. Do you read them? If you don’t, why are you complaining about a Western media bias?
We were taught at a young age to read from a wide range of sources. With the internet, we can now access news articles from tiny press companies that would have never been possible before. I do get my daily digest of ASEAN news from small local newspapers who post online may it be from Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia or other countries. What is written on their front pages will never make it to any of the papers here in Singapore. We read widely for knowledge and balance. I believe that should be the approach in this argument. A media outlet is tuned and customized for its user base. If the manner of its coverage does not suit your tastes, you should move to one that does. There are many free alternatives and it is purely your choice on what to read.
If you prefer a more general response then you must surely take into account the influence that America has on the world. What happens in the United States have very real short term implications in other countries and even continents on the other side of the world. The same thing can be said of the Euro zone and now China. America is a world superpower not just within military and economic spheres, they are also extremely dominant in mindshare. Cultural influence is probably America’s greatest tool. It is pointless to rage against the machine. If you don’t like it, don’t participate in it. There are a host of alternatives that you should promote and share in face of what you think is biased. Walk the talk.
No one has to right to tell people which is a more important group to focus on. No one should belittle any unfortunate incident in face of another. You cannot fight bias with bias. This is not some mathematical equation you can balance out with the number of tweets. I can understand where those who were furious at the ‘Western media bias’ were coming from but such outbursts showed a distinct lack of understanding.
I saw some who posted telling people to get off the #prayforboston hashtag bandwagon, implying that these were attempts to join in a trend and getting caught up with emotions. Unfortunately, these were the same people who jumped on other hashtag bandwagons as well or tried to act all trendy and cool in other ways both physically and online. It is ironic and I kept silent for a simple lesson learnt years ago. Judge not, that ye be not judged. I have my bias too. Who am I to point out the bias of another?
Deep within us is a bias we spend our lifetimes coming to terms with.
I think Twitter is a great platform to watch and observe the reactionary outbursts that people have. It teaches you a great deal of an individual’s character and preferences. The immaturity and time insensitivity of many posts I saw were not surprises. After all, deep within us is a bias we spend our lifetimes coming to terms with. Sometimes we train ourselves to overcome it but it is in such moments that these innate parts spontaneously reveal themselves.
Life is a long journey of learning. Today, we learnt a little more of ourselves.
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