Have you ever gotten stuck in the rain? I live in the south and most summer days there is a rain shower around 5:00. Where I live in Alabama we actually get more rain than Seattle. So I rarely leave home without an umbrella or rain jacket. The problem is rain jackets and umbrella don’t ever really keep you dry. Your feet, legs, and face will always be wet no matter what. The only way to stay dry, to stay inside.
I love social media. It’s a huge part of my day. I’m one who sees the benefits and have preached the goodness before hashtag were a thing. Through it I connect with others and have some amazing conversations that challenge my thinking and professional practice. With the mainstream of social media it has become a place to get world and local news real time. No more waiting until 5:00 to hear what is going on with the world. And that keeps us in the know and aware at all times. Last week while in Denver there was an active shooter in the area and I could watch the tweets and knew what was happening and where. This is a huge positive in our society.
But there is something different when it comes to this type of “journalism.” When you watch the 6:00 news the news anchor reads the facts (usually). If there is a house fire on 4th Avenue, they read there is a house fire on 4th Avenue and probably tell you that first responders are on the scene. No opinions up front. If a person on social media posts they may post that same report but with their own post with an opinion. For example they could post the link to the info about the fire with the comment “this is my aunt’s house, pray for her during this time.” That post will probably get shared with sympathy and people offering to help. Those emotions are now tied to the story. But someone could take the same story and say “this house is my neighbor. It is a known meth lab. Hope the dealers are caught.” That post of the same news story would probably spark rants about drug use in a neighborhood and negative comments. Same story but when human opinion comes into play, the reaction of others differs, is shared, and more opinions given.
This past week many dark and terrible stories have broke. The stories reported were not just of someone losing their lives but are posted with opinions in forms of videos, memes, etc. The opinions and lack of facts spark anger beyond just the anger of what has happened because others’ emotions are muddled in. The emotions and opinions start taking on the headlines and the facts and information gets lost.
Remember above when I mentioned getting stuck in a rain shower? When you are out and the first few drops hit we are usually able to grab cover and get inside with just a few drops on us. Those news stories and the emotions with them are like those rain drops. The smart thing to do when it starts, take a few drops in, pay attention, but grab cover before you get drenched. If you get stuck walking home without a rain jacket, those few drops eventually add up and your entire body becomes drenched. When tragedy that is controversial or can have high emotions happen, you need to take cover and get out. Stop standing there and letting it drench you. Because those emotions build and get stronger until they turn into an obsession. Do you need to stand up for what’s right? Heck yes, but we don’t need to add to the situation.
As educators or parents or just humans around children, we need to teach them how to turn it off. Literacy now includes how to find the real information in a sea of opinions. This is a life skill that needs to be taught in every classroom. There also need to be guidance on how to get out of the tragedy in front of them on the screens and get out in their community to take stands and remember there is good still out there.
I didn’t write this to belittle horrific events but I write this to remind us all to step back. Look at facts before opinions. Live life. Take a deep breath. For the sake of sanity. Then later after your emotions are in check, look for ways to make a difference, to have your voice heard. Social media is not the only place. More good will be done in your community telling the stories that are real and happening around you. Understand that hate isn’t the answer. Understand others. And most importantly, empathy. This is the generation we need to be bringing up.