I start off my day scrolling through Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and then back to Twitter again. The same stuff pops on my feed; the new COVID numbers, political debates, infographics about world issues, and most likely a few lovely pictures of frogs in between it all. I refresh the feed again and again, until I eventually struggle to get out of bed.
Once I get to work, I pull out my phone again, but this time to put on a playlist of all my favourite political podcasts. Flipping through Canadaland and their media criticism; The Daily by The New York Times to make sure I haven’t missed out on any North American issues, and Today Explained from Vox to get informed about global issues. I digest this information, one word at a time, building up a map in my head of what state the world finds itself in.
I get back home and go on my phone again. I read through the infographics people have posted, and I share content that I want my friends to learn about. I always ask myself, “What am I doing to help people learn about these issues? And am I doing enough?”
Let’s look into navigating the media, especially in today’s political climate.
The Echo Chamber
I repost mostly any information that I think others might want to also read. However, people who see what I post most likely are my friends, who already know how I feel about certain issues. Chances are, whatever I repost, my friends will most likely share that same information. That’s great! They’re learning too! But the information all exists on very, very similar feeds, causing a big echo chamber.
Sure, we sometimes have discussions on our thoughts, but we mostly align on everything. We aren’t really reaching out to anyone new with what we say. If anything, if someone doesn’t like what I post, chances are they’ve already muted or unfollowed me. Everyone has most likely tailored their feed to what they want to see the most.
A Diversified Feed
When it comes to political issues, I try to make sure I understand all facets of the story to fully understand the situation. I try to ensure that I can easily access the information I need to fact check other sources. Although basic human rights, such as healthcare, clean water, and gender/sexuality equality aren’t debatable, seeing different perspectives in politics can help you learn where you stand on issues and question what you are reading.
Let’s take the pandemic as an example. The Ontario government made restrictions rather ambiguous for a period of time. News sources cling to fear-mongering tactics to garner attention and clicks. Meanwhile, people tend to over-worry and are then more proactive with their safety measures. Other immensely popular news sources like BlogTO love to focus on patios, trips, and activities people can do which could contribute to creating crowds in those locations. At the same time, we get constant daily COVID updates reported in numerous ways by varying sources; some may focus on reporting pure data, others use keywords like “highest”, “worst”, and “surge”; others diminish the problem by reporting selective data. Recognizing clickbait, the political stances of news sources, and looking into the references they use for facts is incredibly important.
It’s also incredibly easy to get yourself locked into “one side” of the story by catering your feed. I didn’t really notice how much of an issue this was until I noticed that the only reason I knew about the Indigenous rights movement at 1492 Land Back Lane was due to some Instagram cards and independent journalists. Someone who has chosen to just stick to watching, say, the CBC might have completely missed out on this news coverage. Government-funded news sources especially are destined to be filled with content selected for viewers with similar political views to the original source. This alone shows that the media you consume isn’t always perfect, so test out different sources and follow new people with different experiences on socials if you can!
However, a normal media consumer, I would say, doesn’t put that much effort into using the Internet, especially if their intent is escapism. It’s easy to ignore all the problems happening, but being completely ignorant about human rights and the pandemic isn’t something to be proud of.
Can others learn to care?
A few months ago, I got really upset when people’s feeds weren’t solely advocating for human rights. I’m incredibly privileged. At the end of the day, while I turn off my phone and “disconnect” from information on racism, someone who is of this experience can’t do the same. So I try to make sure I’m constantly learning, signing petitions, and when I can, donating.
That’s when I failed to recognize that not everyone cares and quite honestly, I can’t force them to care. Not everyone is always hooked on the latest news. Not everyone has the same tolerance for the endless bombardment of information every time they try to escape into the online world. As much as I’d love to shove a newspaper in front of a friend and make them read through articles, I know that’s completely ridiculous.
But what I have found success in is having genuine conversations at the right time, without shoving information down someone’s throat. I also show potential outcomes to taking action or to knowing information about certain political topics — such as the outcome of a petition going through.
Returning to the pandemic, it’s disheartening to see people constantly violating regulations, including hosting large gatherings, attending parties, and not wearing masks. Those who simply do not care tend to have the philosophy that they are invincible and that their actions won’t have any consequences. Yet it doesn’t hurt to try to express your concerns politely. For instance, I’ve sent messages such as, “Hey! Just as a heads up, cases are going up and quite a few cases are due to restaurants, please be safe if you can! Let’s have a call sometime!”.
I think the most important factor in making people care about things is to not attack, nor pander, nor be condescending. I know it’s easy to let anger get in the way, but, generally speaking, people react negatively to strong emotions and are more receptive to honest conversations. This can be really difficult to do, and it can be incredibly hard to listen to people defend themselves in ways that doesn’t make sense to you. It’s especially difficult with individuals who downright refuse to learn. In that case, you can’t really force them to change, but you can keep going with your own growth.
Avoiding media burnout
Everything I have discussed so far can make it rather overwhelming just to navigate the news. Do we really always have to be logged in, searching for the newest stories, assessing if that news is even legitimate, or convincing our friends to also care? To be quite honest, it’s quite a bit of work. The biggest takeaway for me is gaining a basic understanding of how news and media work.
Staying up to date with current issues is something I believe many should attempt to do if they can. Finding ways to make media more interesting to you, such as finding YouTube channels, podcasts, writers, and more, can make the journey much easier.
Yet, I can’t deny that it has been disheartening, frustrating, and stressful to see everything and feel hopeless about it all. There have been numerous times where I have expressed my frustrations publicly about others whom I thought weren’t caring about COVID precautions, or been so cooped up on one story that I forget everything else, or that I end up getting glued to my screen reposting nonstop without taking time to even properly eat.
I’ve also been on the other end of this stick, annoyed with people yelling about others getting out of the house during Wave 2 of the pandemic, thinking they’re overreacting about it all. Then I realized I was just so burnt out and hopeless about the whole situation after reading the daily numbers continuously climb.
It is okay to take breaks, but remember that not everyone has that privilege. Take that step away from the phone, take a breather, and get back to it whenever you’re ready. I stepped away from my phone for a bit, and came back refreshed and with less unnecessary pentup anger.
Your media experience can still be enjoyable, and don’t feel guilty about that.
Additionally, I think it’s important to remember that everyone shows how they care about information and media differently. Some may not be as public as, say, myself who actively partakes in sharing and creating content for others to see. You may be learning it off to the side or discussing it at home, without posting that information for everyone to see. You’re doing your own part in navigating your way through the media. If anything, it’s far better than performative action, where people simply showcase what they supposedly do that is good for political causes, without actually doing it for the right reasons.
In the end, navigating the news is not easy. With so many different perspectives, algorithms being tailored to your tastes, and the stress of the political climate, it can be easy to just want to turn it all off. Finding the balance between what is a healthy amount of media intake, while still being aware of what is happening, does take time and energy. But, I highly recommend testing new sources, methods of engaging with media, and starting discussions. Media is a powerful tool, but turning it into something more casual in your life may provide benefits to your overall wellbeing.