The world is digital. People get their news from the Internet more than from the news, especially the younger generations. And newspapers are practically obsolete, at this point.
The news sources aren’t always the most trusted, though. Many people – not just millennials – admit to getting their news from social media. That includes things their friends have shared, but it also includes the trending headlines of the day.
A few things to unpack here.
First of all, if you’re getting your news from your Facebook friends, you’re probably receiving a pretty polarized aspect of the day’s news. Most people have friends with similar beliefs and leanings, and if they don’t, it’s really easy to hide those friends’ posts from ever showing up on your Facebook wall. Facebook has become a place that reinforces the views you already hold, rather than one that exposes you to different viewpoints. It’s too easy to insulate yourself within a comfortable bubble, and unfortunately, Facebook’s algorithms are designed in such a way that they appear to support this.
Secondly, many people don’t read beyond the headlines of a news report. The headline, they assume, gives them all the information they need to know, which is definitely not a true statement. In fact, it’s a little terrifying. Anything they don’t get from the headline? They can get it from the comments.
The comments are the worst place to turn to for information. Assuming that the news report is from a credible source in the first place, you have no idea who the people in the comments section are. Their backgrounds, their education levels, or even just their knowledge on the subject is not available to the public, but if someone types something with enough conviction, people will “like” it enough, push it to the top of the comments, and emphasize the point being made. No fact checking, no source verification, no context.
And the truth is, anyone with any kind of credibility is usually not spending their time arguing with strangers on Facebook.
So, the trending topics…
I used to start my day by going to Twitter and/or Facebook and looking to see what was trending for the day. More often than not, it was nothing good. Actually, it was a pretty depressing way to wake up every morning, especially voluntarily.
Bombarding myself with that kind of overwhelming negativity wasn’t good – and more often than not, it was overwhelmingly negative. Every once in a while, something good, heartwarming, or exciting would happen, but that wasn’t the norm. Or if something good did happen, it was usually overshadowed by all other kinds of bad. The balance wasn’t there.
For instance, a good thing could be Justin Timberlake announcing a new album, but at the same time, President Trump would threaten the entire world with nuclear war.
No big deal. All in a day’s tweet.
The problem with a lot of this isn’t just that the news is bad – it’s stressing us out. We, as a people, don’t know how to deal with the onslaught of bad information we’re getting. Not only that, but it’s making us feel helpless. Our president just has to send out a quick tweet while he sits down to breakfast, and the whole world is in a panic.
Whether or not that’s his plan is beside the point.
Another issue with the idea of trending topics is right there in the name. Just because something is “trendy” doesn’t necessarily make it the top news of the day. That all depends on what your goal is in telling the news, though. If it’s to communicate the news people need to or should know, then trending topics aren’t helping. If it’s to get “likes” and clicks back to your webpage, then that’s another story.
Khloe Kardashian’s baby bump will always be trending because it’s easy to consume, easy to understand, and it’s entertaining (apparently). But the riots and protests in Iran? Not so much. Those kinds of topics require a background on the situation, an understanding of the current state of affairs, the ability to discern fact from speculation, and a big enough vocabulary to comprehend the context of the report – at the very least. If you want to be extra thorough, you’ll have to read several articles on the same topic from different sources to ensure you’re getting a broad scope of the issue.
So…Iran doesn’t trend. But Khloe’s baby bump doesn’t further society, nor does it enhance an individual.
I’m not completely discounting pop culture, though. Sometimes I only click on the meaningless drivel that pops up because it’s not as scary or depressing as Ivanka Trump wanting to be the first female president or chocolate going extinct within my lifetime. And sometimes it’s nice to laugh or be light.
There has to be balance between the frivolous and the impactful; between staying sane and staying well-informed; between good and bad.
Trending topics aren’t inherently bad, but there should be an understanding that they do not offer an overview of the big picture. They’re a glimpse into what people are paying attention to at that very moment. And sometimes that’s liberating. That means there’s less pressure to peruse all of the headlines and links. You’re not necessarily missing out on anything you can’t catch up on later. Sure, there is always breaking news, but more often than not, those stories are just smaller, ongoing episodes of a larger story.
That said, take in the news on your own time, try not to let it disrupt your day too badly, and make an effort to stay well-informed and well-rounded. It’s an ongoing game, though. I highly recommend the occasional media break, and hopefully the world will still be here when you return.