I know this post is a bit of a departure from what I normally write about. I read a lot of news, granted it is mostly tech and space related news, but I read a lot of news none the less. The news of late has been even more depressing and frightening than normal and this got me thinking...maybe there is something we can do about it.
Bad things have been happening for as long as the news has been reported and bad things will continue to happen in the future. But are things really as bad as they seem? Reading the news headlines and the posts and memes in your social media accounts may not be the most accurate way to make that determination. There is a primitive response in our human brains to negativity, it attracts our attention. I'm sure it has something to do with when our ancestors had to worry about being eaten by a saber-tooth tiger and our brains had to make us pay more attention to any kind of threat to survive. The media has known about this phenomenon for a long time, which why we have the saying "If it bleeds it leads." If there are two breaking news stories competing for the front page of a news site and one of them is a positive story and the other controversial, you can bet the controversial story will be chosen for the top spot. It's the one that will draw our attention, lead to the most outrage and result in more social media shares and hence even more clicks. And we all know that clicks = $$$.
So want can we do? The reality of the situation is that that all of us are in control of this. The only reason these negative news stories are so popular is because we make them that way. And then when we read these negative stories we are compelled to either share them or comment on them or share related negative information and spread it even further. As a society, the more of these kind of negative messages we circulate the more negative our perspectives on society becomes. It becomes really scary when you start thinking about how these negative perspectives are then spread out into the physical world. Do you think someone who just spent an hour reading negative comments about police violence is going to react differently when pulled over by a cop later that day than someone who has just read a positive story about good cops in our community? It's called cognitive bias and I wrote a rather lengthy piece about it last year about it. My cognitive bias article was focused on the tech industry but it extends to everything. The point in all of this is that we all need to take a step back and mix some actual reality in with the "news" we are being hand-fed. The more negativity we put out there the more negative actions we will get as a result. For every bad action by a police officer there are literally thousands of purely heroic actions, but we don't always hear about those. So what can we do to help turn this around?
- Turn the negativity around. If there is a negative news story out there that gets your attention then try to find a positive way to react to that story. Stop re-posting all the click-bait news stories out there and write a sentence or two about it in your own words instead.
- Spread the positive. It's impossible to stay clear of negativity and we should try to do so, but make a point to share the positive as well. I challenge each and every one of you to try and share a positive news story or comment for every negative news story or comment you post. It's an election season and I have friends on all political sides. So much of the stories that are shared are negative stories about the "other" person. How about sharing some positive stories about what your candidate has done lately instead of bashing the other person. You are a lot more likely to turn around someone else's point of view if you point out the positive with respect to your position rather than pointing out the negative side of their position. The same goes for non-political issues as well.
- Take 30 seconds to do a quick fact check before posting something. There are so many fake news sites and incorrect news stories out there that I end up coming across more fake stories than real ones anymore. Do a quick internet search of the major people and topics in the news story and then check some fact-checking sites like Snopes before re-posting something.
I used to do a weekly post here on this blog called the Vincent Award. I stopped writing these articles because it got harder and harder to find positive news stories. I really enjoyed searching for stories to highlight in this weekly segment, but it got so time consuming to sort through all the negative click-bait stories to find the good ones that I just couldn't spare the time anymore. Maybe if we all start sharing more positive things like I suggest above we will see the media follow our lead and start doing more regular positive stories as well. Remember, the media will publish more of the type of stories we choose to read so choose and share wisely.