By Anastasia Dvoryanchikova
In the 21st century, the web has become our safety net when it comes to researching the recent trends and news. Resilient and supportive at first glance, this web also has holes through which we can fall if we’re not being critical and assertive of the information we receive and if we let the quantity rule over the quality.
On May 26, 2020, I scrolled through the headlines, most of which were devoted to the COVID-19 crisis, until I came across video footage of a white policeman with his knee on the neck of a Black man. With one click, I saw thousands of media coverages that erupted overnight with people chanting for justice, peace, and an end to police brutality. Leaving the US news medium, I travelled over to the European sources. The same voices spoke up, but quietly. The first emerging articles were more of an observation of what was happening overseas. Only a few days later, I saw the first article at VRT News: “What happens in the US touches us too.” At that moment, the world of news, which is patched of different opinions and perspectives, started to unite over one concrete goal: bringing justice.
It took only one week for this to change. With protests spreading around the globe, the media coverage chopped up the reality like green leaves and coated it with a thick layer of dressing, eliminating any taste for truth. As the world was screaming for justice, the media was amplifying those voices to high frequencies outside of the human hearing range. Living in Brussels, in the diversity hub of Central Europe, I had a bird’s eye view of the information spread. It has proceeded in three stages: initiation, summum malum, and plateau.
The initiation stage started with an active support of protesters. Social media platforms were flooded with posts embracing diversity and reposts of activists. Overnight the newsfeed of selfies and puppies on Instagram transformed into an online course on Black history and racial equality. Together with the student societies in Brussels, I joined the movement of spreading educational information on Black history in Europe. Other activists attacked statues of Leopold II, who colonized Congo and remains a symbol of racism.
Then we reached the summum malum, which in Latin means “the greatest wrong.” The streets started to bleed as the police applied force to suppress the peaceful protests. Simultaneously, my newsfeed sprouted more headlines opposing the gatherings. The flow of information from the supporters and opposition was tearing apart not only the media platforms, but also our consciousness. With one click I could move from an article describing police violence to another one calling for deployment of military troops to deal with outrageous protesters. Who do I believe? We have reached the summum malum when the media found it acceptable to brainwash its readers with photoshopped images. The misinformation cultivated in the US had a domino effect on the rest of the world. Actually, I have started to notice how the conversation among my classmates has shifted from educating each other to ridiculing fake news.
“The greatest wrong” is worsened when it is met with a passive response and later moves into a plateau. While the misinformation was spreading, nobody was held accountable. A few aggressive tweets are not a prescription for a system with a chronic condition. As more people go online, it is not a question of “if” but rather “when” the crisis of media illiteracy will reach its tipping point.
So, the next time you see a trending hashtag on Twitter or a hot topic on the news, remember that the quantity should not overrule the quality.
Anastasia Dvoryanchikova is a Russian student studying at KU-Leuven in Belgium. You can follow her on Twitter at @AnadAnastasia.