Editorial: Beyond a vapid culture

In the age of social media, news travels quickly and widely. Sometimes it keeps travelling for days, at which point your newsfeed is suffocating under that one piece of information that refuses to go away.

Last week, Zayn Malik left the beloved British boy band One Direction to the devastation of teenagers around the world. I’ll be damned to find one person who is unaware of this because it has saturated every facet of social media. I don’t even like One Direction or keep up with their antics, but I can pinpoint the exact trail of events leading to Zayn’s departure because they have all popped up on my social feed at some point or another.

It’s not bad to consume tabloid gossip. I’m not condemning those who keep up with celebrity culture because I do it too — we all do.

But there comes a point where the vapidity of the media Western culture forces upon us removes our drive to seek out news that doesn’t come as easily at the click of a button.

I don’t want to read through countless Buzzfeed articles about which type of cheese best matches my personality, or what my favourite Disney princess says about my taste in shoes, but I do it anyway because these articles are so easy to find.

It’s not just an issue of laziness contributing to a lack of engagement with news outside of tabloid gossip, but also Western media’s inability to report on international issues effectively.

20 years ago, following the genocide in Rwanda, Western media was heavily criticized for its failure to report on the mass murders. Some editors thought the issue was unimportant. Some just weren’t interested. If it wasn’t for the South African elections, the genocide would have received even less coverage than it did.

20 years later, the Ebola outbreak happens, and lack of coverage certainly isn’t the issue but rather irresponsible journalism.

People are definitely aware of the crisis but they remain uninformed. Headlines like CNN’s, “Ebola: the ISIS of Biological Agents,” fuelled mass hysteria which really accomplished nothing but the wrongful antagonizing of a large number of Africans due to the belief that the entire continent had somehow contracted the disease.

It’s a three-part conundrum that contributes to the general public’s lack of access to meaningful and factual information: media passivity, irresponsible journalism and lack of community engagement.

It’s difficult, especially for people who are not journalists and don’t have a large platform, to remedy the faults of media outlets. However, what can be done is increasing engagement; and no one can force that change in you except for yourself.

It may be easy to live in your bubble and disregard what goes on outside your world, but ignoring such issues will not exempt you from its impacts.

Air pollution in China is a topic seldom discussed even though it has already contributed to around 1.2 million deaths. Pollutants have begun to affect air quality in Japan and South Korea. How long before it reaches North America? Maybe it never will if people actively engage with these issues and demand change.

In the age of mass communication and globalization, we are connected across continents and oceans virtually and physically. Being educated in international issues is no longer a cheap means to intellectual fuel at wine and cheese parties but a responsibility you owe to yourself.

Knowledge has never hurt anyone — only lack thereof. When access to information comes so freely and easily, there is no reason for us to remain ignorant about issues that lie under the layer of celebrity gossip and click-bait articles. We only have to seek it out.

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