Sorry to burst your bubble

By Ginnette Ng


People were screaming and running in all directions, ducking behind cars as the sound of gunfire reverberated halfway through a night concert in Las Vegas. On the other side of the world, I was on a bus home from Orchard Road, watching the footage on my Facebook news feed.

Not surprisingly, this is the way we consume news now: through social media. Bite-sized information gets posted almost every minute on the web. More horrifying accounts of the Las Vegas shooting continued weeks after the incident. More stomach-churning videos were posted, liked and shared. News reports and analyses rolled out — Is this a terror attack? How did the perpetrator get so many guns? How many more will have to die before gun laws in the US change?

But while we are so tuned in to who the victims and heroes are in the Las Vegas shooting, we have missed other tragedies around the world that deserve our equal attention.

One example would be the accident in Somalia this October, when a truck bomb exploded in the middle of a busy street, killing over 300. I had found out about it because my parents were watching the news on Channel NewsAsia. But on social media, no one in my circle of friends talked about it.

The New Yorker raised an apt question: “Where is the empathy for Somalia?”

Attention given to this attack paled even in comparison to the attention given to some celebrity news. Reality star Kylie Jenner’s pregnancy, for instance, garnered so many tweets that even those who didn’t keep up with her life had caught up inadvertently.

While the neglect of certain stories on social media is not commendable, it is understandable why we share some stories over others.

It is not that we do not care about the explosion in Somalia. We are overfed with information, both online and offline. As such, we choose to read only what is relevant and higher up on our social media feeds.

For many of us, it also matters who says it. We know and follow many celebrities who spread the news about Las Vegas, and expressed their grief online. Katy Perry, the most followed celebrity on Twitter, with 105 million followers, said she was “devastated, furious and heartbroken”.

Kim Kardashian West also tweeted and retweeted opinions asking for stricter gun control laws. By doing so, she included her followers in a national conversation about gun control in the US.  

The same cannot be said about Somalia, a country we Singaporeans have not heard as much about.

As for Kylie Jenner, with her 98.7 million Instagram followers and a reality show to boot, many have become involved in the details of her life — details which may not be the most wholesome, but are definitely entertaining.

It is no wonder there are complaints whenever big stories from different parts of the world happen at the same time. “The media is biased”; some even say it is “racist” as stories from the Western world receive greater attention. While this is true, it is also because our friends end up sharing the same stories on our social media feeds.

Last year, The National Youth Council’s survey found that 78 per cent of youth in Singapore use social media to get their news. It is apt how Mark Zuckerberg and his team called it the News Feed, years before Facebook became a digital News in Brief for this decade.

Our limited worldview arises because of the information bubble created by our social circles, where the people we know tend to have similar values and interests as we do.

Websites like Yahoo News, YouTube and Facebook, also create algorithms suggesting content we may be interested in, based on our clicks and search histories, to keep us on their page. This creates an echo chamber where the news we read is only limited to what has been read by our friends.  

But we still have to acknowledge that we do contribute to the problem; media organizations are not entirely to blame. Our activity on social media cause certain stories to appear higher up on our social media feeds because of how widely we share them.  

Through our likes, shares and upvotes, we begin to shape the media agenda. In fact, we become “the media” as well.

With a responsibility like that, it’s time we proactively look at other new sources beyond our Facebook and Twitter accounts.

One good example is Al Jazeera, a news organisation based in the Middle East. Give them a follow on any social media platform for their extensive onground coverage of the Middle East.  We can also watch their short documentaries on YouTube, covering social issues, politics, digital trends with a humanistic point of view.

Also, check out the r/worldnews or r/science pages on Reddit and sort the posts according to the most recent instead of the most popular. Those who comment on these pages are sharp readers who often help evaluate the source or scientific journal’s credibility.

For those of us who do not like to read the news, we can turn to Philip DeFranco’s Youtube channel. He has been a vlogger on YouTube for 11 years now, where he provides balanced summaries of news stories on his channel. He thoroughly researches the topics he discusses and encourages his audience to respond with comments, to give alternative viewpoints or to keep him in check if he is incorrect.

Admittedly, these kinds of stories are less entertaining and quite depressing, compared to the latest Marvel movie news for example, and many of these global events may not affect Singapore directly.

But as global citizens and fellow human beings, I think it is our responsibility to know what is going on elsewhere in the world.

It may seem futile and confusing at times, when there is little we can say or do to help. But after we read the news, we can do what we do best — share it. Perhaps someone we know may be in a better position than us to do something to help.

Getting the word out is better than doing nothing at all.