The globalization of news

“What is happening with this world??”

If you occasionally spend time on Social Media, you might be familiar with this phrase. It is a rather common reaction of people to terrible news events involving violence, terrorism or other kinds of destructive aggression or catastrophes.

Whenever I see someone responding with a statement like the one above, I am tempted to reply: “The same things as have always happened”. I don’t, because people in a state of shock and sorrow don’t need that kind of smart-ass remark.

Still, now and here, I think it is important to point out that whenever somebody makes a comment implying that everything is falling apart, some heavy selective perception is at work. Even though the world indeed has become rather turbulent lately, as confirmed by a recent expert survey of the World Economy Forum, not every incident and event should be taken as proof for that.

For instance, I saw tweets with phrases similar to the one above following the recent terrorist attacks in Jakarta. However, in Indonesia attacks have been happening over many decades, including devastating ones in the early 00-years. That does not mean that one should not be saddened by the most recent attack. But if you look at statistics, unfortunately one has to conclude that Islamist attacks in the country are nothing out of the ordinary.

“What is happening with this world??” is also a typical reaction to terrorist attacks when they take place in Europe. Only those who have a look at the statistics will realize that the 70s and 80s were much worse in regards to victims of terrorism in Europe.

I am aware that statements like these need to be understood in the bigger context. They are less a reaction to a single event but rather to the perceived or actual concentration of comparable events. And since our times are objectively very turbulent and characterized by a lot of novelty due to tectonic shifts in technology and geopolitics, the general observation is not completely wrong. However, I suspect that there is another driving force for the loudly voiced impression of overall decay, and it is a much bigger one: the globalization of news.

At least for users of Social Media and in particular, but not exclusively, of Twitter, a terrorist attack or other type of violent incident anywhere in the world has almost the same kind of felt urgency and newsworthiness as a similar incident in his/her own city or country. Thanks to the real time web, social networks, the laws and dynamics of online news media, push messages and a bunch of other characteristics of today’s media landscape, everything that happens anywhere receives immediate attention everywhere. This is slightly exaggerated but I hope you see the point.

The very logical consequence is the feeling that constantly something evil is happening. Which is the case, but which also was the case at any other moment in time. Only that before the digital age, the slowness and limited reach of analogue media, the constant editorial filtering and the prioritization of local over global meant that the average news consumer would have learned about events on the other side of the world at best with a significant delay and extremely briefly. Not anymore. Minutes after the blasts in Jakarta, I had seen the first videos, thanks to my Twitter timeline.

The globalization of news is overwhelming the news consumer with unfiltered information from around the globe, all day long, and with the focus on tragedy and disaster that is inherent to news media. Generally, that can be a good thing. Informed individuals with a horizon further than their own little world might be more compatible with the type of future that lies ahead of us. But it requires awareness about the mechanisms involved. Otherwise it is very easy to wonder what’s happening with this world.

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