Miss Information

Hello, it’s been a while.

I was mulling over whether or not I should actually write this all weekend, flitting between “Hell yes” and “No, you might piss people off.” And I came to a decision, which was fuck what people think, I need to get this out there.

The events that occurred in Paris on Friday the 13th of November were truly awful, a tragedy that struck at the heart of one of the most historic and culturally significant cities in the western hemisphere. Likewise the attacks in Beirut and Baghdad, though not as widely reported on, were brutal assaults on innocent victims that should never have happened in a civilised world. In the aftermath it was heartwarming to see people from all across the globe coming together in solidarity, either by changing profile pictures or penning heartfelt messages to those who either suffered personally or knew someone who had. For a brief day it felt as if perhaps people could overcome their differences to stand united against terrorism in all its forms, to show that we can work, pray, love and care for each other even when we’re thousands of miles away.

A brief day.

What has followed since has done nothing short of drive me to despair, and ultimately to this online refuge where I can say in peace what I perhaps would not be able to say in public. Social media enables many wonderful things, we can share aspects of our lives with friends and family that we otherwise couldn’t, we can share our thoughts and feelings at the times we need to most. This weekend was certainly one of those times, an outpouring of grief and support for the victims, a testament to what good it can do to be connected.

But then it started. It was inevitable really, but still no less mean spirited, misinformed, callous, judgmental, vitriolic, and venomous than it was a dozen times before. Both sides of the coin, tossing back theory, conspiracy, jumping to conclusions from shreds of evidence that were neither verified nor even logical. Islamophobia reared its ugly head, draped in mock concern, a thin veil for the bigots and racists to launch their insults at those who have done nothing wrong. But at the same time there were those who chose to bury their heads in the sand, insist that nothing was wrong, that there are no underlying issues to be tackled and genuine boots on the ground battles to be fought.

It’s been infuriating to see so many misinformed people have so much to say, comments that are utterly baseless and are driven purely by emotion rather than any semblance of intelligence or reason. This is not a blame game, no fingers are being pointed, rather this is an issue with what happens on social media in the aftermath of any major event. The simple fact is this, people should not be talking about things they don’t understand. Plain and simple. It applies to the bloke down the pub mouthing off about politics when he doesn’t even know what first past the post is, it applies to the cabby ranting about the economy based off what he’s read about scroungers in the Mail, it applies to journalists and politicians and newscasters, the people who shape the way we see things,  and it damn sure applies to all the legions of Facebook users writing and posting and sharing statuses and pictures based purely off a herd mentality.

Again, this is not an argument against showing respect, as some who have raised a similar point have been accused of. I’m not disagreeing with those who have changed their profile pictures with the flag, nor am I calling out people for not paying more attention to events further afield. It’s justifiable, only just, to reflect more on Paris as it’s closer to home, because incidents like this are rarer in Europe, because we may know people who live there. I understand that nobody who chooses to focus on Paris is dehumanising or taking anything away from the victims in Beirut and Baghdad, it’s simply the focus of the news we’re presented with. We can only base our views off the sources that are available to us, but that is only a further driver of this problem.

People view a valid source these days as not just the actual news, as it may have been in the days of Pathé newsreels, but anything and everything they may see and hear on the internet. We are too susceptible to liking and sharing something because we’ve seen others do it, instead of researching it ourselves and coming to a conclusion. A case this weekend was a heavily circulated picture from inside the Paris stadium, overlaid with text about a muslim man named Zuheir who stopped a bomber and saved countless lives. It’s a touching story in the context of such tragedy, but it sadly isn’t true – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-trending-34845882. Zouheir, although a security guard, was stationed somewhere completely different in the stadium, and made no mention of his religion, he was merely recounting to a journalist events that he had been told about by his colleagues. We want a nice narrative to cling to, but that desire for a good story comes in the way of the truth. It’s the reason why people will blindly share Britain First posts, it’s the reason why redtop rags continue to publish baseless drivel day in day out, people want a good story.

Look, when it comes down to it, and though it may not seem to be so, I’m not a heartless bastard. I’m not saying that sympathy for the victims is wrong, or that people shouldn’t be giving it. My point is that it’s all too easy in this day and age to jump onto something without knowing all the facts. When any ten year old with a laptop can doctor an image, it’s difficult to know where the fact stops and the fantasy begins, be it a positive story that’s been cooked up or a negative one (of which there have been plenty which I do not wish to get into for fear of bursting a vein from rage). As largely rational, reasonably intelligent adults, we owe it to ourselves and to others to make sure that we truly know something before we talk about it. You must be sure of something internally, that you agree, that you know why you feel a certain way, not just because you’ve been told to. Likewise by spreading misinformation to others you merely hinder what good progress may be made. Perhaps an image on Facebook is small fry, but the same principle applies no matter the level of the mistake, and it’s something that must be learned to stop a generation of people from growing up to be blind followers as opposed to independent thinkers.

The events of the past weekend will not be forgotten for a long time, senseless acts of violence have no place in a civilised, modern society. IS must undeniably be stopped, by whatever means the global community settles on. But please, just think twice the next time you’re about to post a comment, or share a picture or link, and make sure that you can trust the information you’re spreading. The world, as we know all too well, has more problems than it can deal with right now, but being intelligent enough to understand that is a saving grace.

Let’s try and keep it that way.




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