By: Obinna Esomchukwu
In our world today, we are constantly bombarded with new information from social media platforms, television, and radio stations. This barrage of data can be very overwhelming. So, in order to cope, we resign the task of processing this enormous information to various agencies like media outlets. Such agents are therefore not only responsible for how we separate the consequential from the trivial, but also determine which issues hold precedence, and hence are able to shape popular opinion around those topics. Essentially, they determine to a reasonable extent, our perception of any occurrence.
A few weeks ago, hurricane Matthew ravaged some countries in the Caribbean. According to the Saffir-Simpson scale, this hurricane was a category four storm, which is the second most powerful type of hurricane. While there is not a definitive number of lives lost, The Telegraph reported a death toll of over 842 in Haiti. Anything that stood in the path of the hurricane came down crumbling. Businesses, churches, houses, roads, and schools fell face down leaving the people of Haiti to lay in the rubble of the life they once had.
Although major news outlets provided up-to-speed reports on the havoc reigned by the hurricane, it seemed the reaction of many especially on social media, was at best equanimous and worst inhumane. This apathy surely exacerbated what was already a painful experience.
Many of us could not travel to Haiti to express our sympathy and compassion. Just like we could not travel to France, to mourn those who lost their lives in the 2015 terrorist attack in Paris. But, we had the option to extend the same love and compassion.
Permit me to use the Paris attack in 2015, as an example again. After the killings in France, there was a profound sense mourning around the world. Once more we were reminded of the caprice of life and how the malevolence of a few threatened our safety.
However, instead of responding with fear, people responded with courage. Most people took to various social media platforms to encourage the people of France by using hashtags, “Pray for Paris” and other tags, to show solidarity with the French. Even some of my friends who could not point out France on a map adorned their Facebook profile picture with the blue, white and red tricolor band.
The show of support was facilitated by a number of factors namely; incessant Facebook prompts to show solidarity by adding the French national flag to your profile picture, endless runs and reruns of the various political leaders extending their condolence to France, and extensive coverage and update by every media outlet. At this juncture, I should point out, that I do not hold anything against those who changed their profile picture and I also believe that the tragedy in Paris had a fitting amount of media coverage. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the tragedy in Haiti.
Some people, especially those who were personally affected by the hurricane have pointed an accusing finger at Facebook. Their dissatisfaction stems from the apparent disparity in the way Facebook and other media outlets handled this disaster. They claim that if Facebook had applied the same measures it did after the attack in France to the situation in Haiti, Perhaps much more people would have been aware of the extent of damage caused and the Hurricane. And thus, show their support to the affected people.
Considering that Facebook has over 1.7 billion active users, I believe they make a good case. I want to note, however, that it is our responsibility as human beings to share the pain experienced by others and in cases where possible seek to ameliorate their situation. Therefore, we cannot rely on a biased media or some computer programmers to determine what issues should hold precedence. We ought to consciously decide which issues get our attention. Alternative media and independent news sources are great places to start.
Finally, the people of Haiti are hurting. We must not only remember them in our prayers, but
actively support them as they move forward to rebuild their nation.