The News And Its Negative Effects

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We are constantly being bombarded with stories of depression, despair, and destruction. Image via globaldiscussion.net.

A group of us at the AYCW recently had a discussion about the negative effects that the news has on society, especially on our health and state of wellbeing.

The topic arose from the negative and upsetting stories and events which have taken place over the past month. Events such as the Gaza Strip Conflicts, the Malaysian Airlines crises, even issues at home such as the refugees seeking asylum on our shores, and the outcry prompted by the Federal Budget.

Scrolling through Facebook and browsing social media, we became even more shocked at the amount of negativity and tragedy depicted in the form of ‘breaking news’ updates, stories of death, destruction, and despair.

This prompted us as young people who are subjected to these tragedies on a daily basis, to ask ourselves how seeing these news stories affects us, and if – because we are so used to being bombarded with it – these tragedies still ‘jolt’ us or bring out a negative reaction.

We acknowledged that because news is so readily available to us, we have become in a way used to it. That while we feel deep concern, compassion, and empathy for those we see in situations of desperation, we also feel helpless.

I was at the hairdressers a couple of weeks ago, when the lady next to me brought up the MH17 tragedy which claimed the lives of 298 people. Closing the newspaper with a sigh, she went on to say “I do feel bad hearing about these things. That’s why I don’t watch the news. It might sound bad, but there’s nothing you can do to help so there’s really no point getting all down about it.”

It is true that most people feel helpless when it comes to significant tragedies such as these. While we still feel compassion for those in struggle, our compassion only goes so far as offering condolence and sympathy. It doesn’t mean to say that we have “hardened our hearts” to the suffering and the horrors which present itself, but we are in a state of helplessness. We may feel sorry, post a status about it, donate to relief efforts, or pray; but as the event passes, so do we.

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The MH17 disaster in Ukraine. Image via news.com.au.

In many respects, the negativity of news is one of self-infliction. We can choose what we see, read or hear. We can choose to feed ourselves with negative news. We can also choose to select the issues or topics which resonate with us in some degree; as we can empathise more. For example, the news of an airplane crashing overseas can prompt us to empathize with the thoughts of “What if that was me?” “My parents are overseas right now, I hope they’re safe” “Wow, I was just there the other week” “I was supposed to board that flight” etc. These issues which relate to us in some way, or which emit a personal tie, will probably affect us more than those events which are foreign to us such as a school shooting in America, or a typhoon in Japan.

The negative effects of news is therefore reflective of the increase in overload and accessibility, and with all of its complex issues, juxtaposed with this fast-paced world and a more integrated and globalized society, we feel we should be mourning these events or doing something about them, but in reality, we most often can’t and this leads to this sense of ‘immunity’ to it.

Some points that the YCW members brought up in our discussion:

  • “As a young person and a YCW person, I was thinking to myself – what are the factors that have changed in my life, that makes me “get on with my life” more easier? Is it because I’m older and more mature? Is it because I have access to the media more easier, so if I wanted an update I could just go to my news app and get the info, instead of being glued to a TV show? Is it because that this things seem to be happening more often, that I’m thinking, “oh that’s just what the world is coming to”? Am I becoming more immune to it? Is it because I don’t know the backgrounds of these tragedies (especially in the Middle East!),”“And as a person with emotions (we all like to know I like to cry!) I feel like I should be mourning and showing my grief somehow – but how do people do that – for instance I want to tell the families and the Malaysian airlines people and the governments, that I’m truly sadden by the fact that some people today think they have the right to pull a trigger or nail a person to a cross without any consequences.”
  • With all complex issues, even domestically, it requires considered dialogue, long term commitment, self-sacrifice (not the crazy suicidal kind but the resolute self-restraint one demonstrated by multi ethnic groups of surviving relatives or rehabilitation initiatives). But how many of us seriously distraught by these atrocities are able and willing to do something tangible – is it our place to do something? Which brings us full circle – we feel sorry, we feel helpless, we post on social media, we say a prayer, we may even donate to relief efforts, we move on.

We are all affected by the news in different ways. If you can recall the tragedies of 9/11 and the live coverage of the events unfolding, it was certainly a day that “stopped the world.” How do some of these events emit more emotion or shock than others? Is it because of the way it’s delivered to us? Is it the emotional tie to these events that remind us of our own vulnerability and fears? Or is it simply to do with where we are in our lives, where we are in the world, and how we understand or dissect tragedy?

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News can serve as a powerful tool; it gives us insight, enlightenment, a sense of comradery and community. But it can also be damaging, particularly in an age where information can be easily misused, misinformed, and misappropriated.

As long as we are all human – and all experience emotion – we will be affected by what we see, hear, or read. As young people, we have to be careful with what we feed ourselves and what we subject ourselves to, but we also have to be open to it and readily persuaded to take action if it allows us to improve or better the lives of others less fortunate, as well as our own.

How does the news affect you? And as a young person, do you feel we should be doing something about it, or are we simply just helpless?

Please comment with your thoughts below.

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