A Taste for Disaster
It is currently the first few hours since MH17 crashed in Eastern Ukraine and all my social media outlets are abuzz with activity.
Except tumblr, since I no longer follow many accounts on this platform anymore. What a relief.
If there are a few things that I’ve learnt from how to deal with news when MH370 went missing, they certainly are as applicable to the current state of affairs. Unfortunately, it seems that most people have a taste for disaster.
It sounds morbid, because it is. Focal point on my facebook and twitter is mainly thoughts on how they cannot believe MH17 is shot down, how one should respect the dead (the irony; I’ll talk more about this later), and endless retweets and sharing of reports from all kinds of sources imaginable.
It seems, as much as one would like to think one is a discerning, responsible social media user, one is not the user one thinks oneself to be.
First, the overwhelming trend on my timelines is the sharing of the “fact” that the plane is shot down. When MH370 disappeared, speculations ran amok within the hour and there was no stopping them. News sources, reputable ones included, jumped at anything they can get regarding the possible trace of the plane. With MH17, they report anything they can get.
Of course, they need to report the speech from Poroshenko. But let’s all take a step back and remember, this is a speech. Investigations have yet to commence as groups of rescuers are locating debris and bodies. News outlets also cautioned: the possibility of the plane being shot down is not excluded. Investigations for flight disasters take time, and a plane being shot down is not like a person being shot down: you can’t see a distinct entrance hole and hopefully some gunshot residue.
At this point, it is merely speculation.
It is also the most shared “fact” on my timelines. For one reason, reputable news sources reported on the speech. It is the responsibility of the press to cover this story as thoroughly as possible, offering possible insights from all possible perspectives; it is the reader’s responsibility to discern fact from speculation.
When a reader has a tunnel vision and focus, unfortunately, on speculation, it will make future readings of other reports biased, and it will also tend to cloud judgment in the process of seeking the truth as to what really happened.
Besides, there are more urgent matters to tend to. Like locating debris. And for the layperson expecting guests or relatives who are on flights travelling the same route as MH17 did, it is far more important to check the if travel time is delayed, if route is changed, if arrival time has changed. It will also be useful to check which airlines have just announced avoiding travelling over Ukrainian airspace as this will mean changes in travelling time and arrival times.
It will also be more helpful as a social media user to share the fact that MH17 was also operating under the codeshare code with KLM4103. It was expected to arrive in Kuala Lumpur.
Second, on the irony of the phrase used by many: “respect the dead”. I always have, and always will, which is why I avoid retweeting and sharing pictures of disaster zones. However, this phrase does not occur to most people when, in their fervor of sharing the latest news, did not register the fact that pictures of the crash site will also mean bodies. While it is definitely heartening that most, upon realizing their mistake, undid their retweets and urged others who have also commit the unfortunate mistake to do so, within the few seconds of error, others might have retweeted it and spread the pictures further. We have a taste for disaster; we want to share the latest developments, which is why such an unfortunate mistake can occur.
Perhaps, most ironically, news outlets are using such graphic pictures as part of their developing story. While MH17’s crash will see news sources experiencing a spike in traffic, usage of such pictures in their news shows a lack of awareness in the industry with regard to respect for the dead. Again, just because they are reputable agencies does not mean one does not question the. As a responsible reader, you can choose not to share the pictures and also reflect to the agencies of its inappropriateness. Also, within the first 24 hours, do not believe everything or anything until you have compared it across various sources.
Personally, I try my best to not let my taste for disaster get in the way of establishing facts and understanding how this will impact me. For most disasters, they don’t affect my life that much. But aviation is different; it is a mode of transport, which means it might happen to me.
Which is why at this point, it is far more important to me to learn about the facts of what has happened. The why can come later.
Our taste for disaster may have us feel that we have a stake in promoting awareness, that we are on social media ground zero, but more often than not our brains, being the asses they are, choose to focus on the sensational details, which, more often than not, are speculations or “developments” that merely show a picture of the dead, the latter being not cool as it is a form of disrespect.
While we can all agree this is not the year for Malaysia Airlines, let the press and experts do their work, and us exercise our right to be more discerning and focus on the facts, and be more responsible as a social media user as we tweet and share about developments
At least this is making its rounds on twitter. (via onthemedia):