It seems like there have been a lot of mass killings around the world recently. The shooting in Pulse Nightclub in Orlando; the killing of police officers in Dallas and in Baton Rouge; the shooting in Club Blu in Fort Myers, Florida; the attack in a Catholic church in France; the killing of scores in Nice, France; the killing of 19 sleeping disabled people in Japan.
All of these events have occurred within the past few months, and it gives the sense that the world is out of control and the number of mass killings is soaring. We’ve talked before about the data on mass killings and what exactly constitutes a mass killing, giving a range of 4 mass shootings in 2015 by some definitions all the way up to 353 mass shootings using a different definition. We aren’t going to re-hash whether or not the number of mass killings is or is not on the rise.
What I want to discuss here is the nearly instant updates we get scrolling across our smartphone screens on a daily basis. The Atlantic recently published a piece attempting to explain how and why certain news media outlets choose what to send out as push notifications (the news updates that scroll across your screen) and what not to send out. I do find that having push notifications coming from news outlets around the world (rather than just American news outlets) helps balance the situation, since American news outlets tend to push American stories at the expense of more serious global stories. Case in point, The Atlantic piece questioned why the New York Times decided to push a notification about how President Obama eats 7 almonds every evening but didn’t push a notification about a bombing in Baghdad that killed nearly 300 people.
My point is twofold here: First, if you rely on only one source for your news, you get a biased and skewed picture of the world in general and mass killings in particular. Second, the nearly instant notification of mass killings piques our attention at first – when the facts and data aren’t yet clear – and we often don’t follow up to learn the real facts a few days or weeks later when they’re established. This leads many of us to jump to quick conclusions based on incomplete information, and I think this is an untenable situation.
What should you do? Does it really matter? I would argue that it does matter; that spewing off invectives on Facebook or Twitter before you know the real facts about an event or a person is not helpful and only serves to inflame already tense situations. As for what to do, please diversify your sources of information. If you only use Facebook to find out about world events, diversify. If you get all of your news from Fox News, keep reading/listening but add more sources.
Listen, instant notification about serious events is important and can help in a time of crisis. But please understand that what you get from these short bursts is rarely the full story and that a clearer picture of an event like a mass killing only forms days and weeks after the event.