The media has always been used as a mouthpiece for propaganda, and we too often are given only selected parts of a story. In the digital age, with the wide availability of so many forms of media, we are privileged to be able to easily access the wider issues – and the other side of the story.
When I was growing up, we had four TV channels. The news was on at set times, and your family would read a particular newspaper. You could get extra news from the radio, and Ceefax or Teletext, if your TV had the capability.
Of course, people read between the lines of the newspapers, and questioned what they heard on the news, but getting more information was challenging.
The digital age has transformed how we digest news and current events: it puts us in control of what we read, watch and listen to, and when.
Alternative perspectives on a story are available literally at people’s fingertips on smartphones, tablets and computers. We are able to compare views from the online versions of newspapers, chat with people from all over the world on social media, and discover new opinions on blogs. If we so choose, we can sit in front of 24 hour news to watch a story unfold and develop.
A pertinent recent example of using digital media to gain a perspective on all sides of a story is yesterday’s announcement of new NICE guidelines for birth. Many headlines suggested that home is the safest place for women to give birth, with the implication that there was only one ‘right’ place and way to give birth. Such a view is very unhelpful for many women. Of course, there is far more to the guidelines, and it was fascinating yesterday to watch debates unfold.
On Twitter, women shared their own very different experiences of birth – some in hospital, some at home, some in midwife-led units. Some went to plan, others needed interventions. Most births had happy outcomes, but others ended tragically with the death of a baby. Tweeters shared the angle pursued by the news and daytime programmes, saving me the trouble of putting the telly on. Bloggers articulated their views eloquently in their posts, discussing the guidelines in the context of their own birth experiences.
It is wonderful to be a part of such open and honest dialogue, not just about this topic, but so many important issues too.
However, we must always be mindful of respect and boundaries when sharing news on digital media: 24 hour news is notorious for being too quick to report before all facts are confirmed; libellous allegations are posted on social media and spread like wildfire; graphic images of accident victims are shared; terrorists exploit social media to share their despicable videos of hostages’ murders.
Respect and boundaries on social media was discussed on Twitter earlier this afternoon in relation to the tragic deaths of Charlotte Bevan and her baby daughter Zaani. I send my deepest condolences to Charlotte’s family.
The group of us who had been tweeting realised we needed to take a step back and balance our sadness over their deaths and our desire to work together to do something to help and support others, with respect for Charlotte’s grieving family. It can be too easy to slip from expressing about a tragic situation on social media to speculating what might have happened, which is unhelpful and disrespectful to the devastated, grieving family.
For all the potential we have to be an active participant with digital media, there will always be those who digest information passively. Those who take sensationalist headlines (typically from the good old Daily Mail) at face value. Those who share on Facebook the emotive posts by Britain First without pausing to think of the politics and tactics that are behind them.
You cannot always believe everything you read, and it is the sensationalist headlines that do the most damage to society: generating fear of crime, creating health worries with no foundation of evidence; inciting xenophobia and racism with unsubstantiated tales of immigrants stealing jobs and taking benefits. I find this apathy, and lack of reflection and contemplation about the facts behind the headlines exasperating, saddening, and at worst – scary.
On the lighter side, though, some tabloids’ finger in the air headlines can be amusing – guess what, everyone, winter is forecast to be cold! Maybe.
We should always take the time to question what we hear and what we read, taking advantage of all the tools we now have at our disposal to read between the lines of the news in this digital age.
Linking up with Mum Turned Mom, based on the prompt “I read the news today.”