In the past few weeks, bad news, lots of it, has rained down. Online, reactions to the surfeit of deeply disturbing news varies. Some folks leap in with opinion or new information. Others go on about their business posting family photos, recipes or discussing SEO. Still others propose comic or cute relief as an antidote to the grim headlines. Bad news, man-made and natural, has always sold papers. In a context of 24/7 news cyles and hyperinfo glut, however, following current events might have a serious downside.
I grew up in a household where each day of the week started and ended with the news. The New Haven Journal Courier arrived before dawn, delivered to our house and the neighbours in a four-mile radius by yours truly. WELI, a mix of current events and drippy music, provided the soundtrack for the breakfast hour. The Register arrived in the evening. On Thursdays, news consumption got a boost from The Chronicle, a local weekly. The New York Times Sunday edition was a weekend staple. Weekly news magazines like Life, Look and Newsweek provided more in-depth coverage and breathtaking colour photos. Each day ended with the 11 pm news.
Back then, that was a lot of news. Today, my family’s news consumption seems laughable when compared to the steady stream of news on tap online around the clock. These days, each time there is a major event or catastrophe, news junkies can follow the events as they unfold, minute by gory minute. Even if you’re not particularly keen to keep up, ducking the news feed is nearly impossible.
Not surprisingly then, in the wake of the assassinations in Paris last week, the net exploded with news quickly followed by opinion, analysis, debate and a string of highly publicized demonstrations. It’s not the first time a devastating event has lit up the cybersphere. For example, most recently, the police shooting in Ferguson captured the attention of online media in a big way. This time, however, and for the first time, I noticed that folks were actively pushing back against the horror.
On Facebook, several friends posted pictures of baby animals and Star Trek characters and offered to post more for every “like” they received. These posts were clearly labelled as an effort “to the break the saturation of negative images and videos”. That stock phrase caught my attention. Clearly, the postings were not a coincidental one-off.
I searched the term “negative images” on Twitter and found that the phenomenon turns up on that platform as well although the links refer back to individual Facebook accounts. A Google search of the entire phrase also turns up results linked to Facebook and date back to last September, roughly a month after Michael Brown was shot and killed by a policeman in Ferguson, Missouri.
I don’t know where this effort to turn down the negative by posting the positive began or where it will lead. It does make me wonder though if we have reached a tipping point? A point where, to paraphrase the rant made famous by news anchorman Howard Beale, the main character in Network, “We’re as sad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!”
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