Media sensationalism trumped by online insensitivity
People jump at tragedy, conspiracy, violence and spicy bits of information. This is true on Twitter as it is on TV.
When the Airblue flight ED 202 crashed into the Margalla hills, there was a barrage of criticism against the media reportage of the incident. Sensationalist, unethical and downright insensitive were the allegations against the Pakistani media, and to be honest, they were not misplaced.
From boasting to be the first ones to have broken the news to showing gory footage of blood and body parts, running after families of the victims for juicy soundbytes depicting their pain and giving false hope by airing incorrect reports of survivors, the media certainly had a chargesheet of complaints against it, and justifiably so.
Bloggers and Twitter users in the Pakistani cyberspace were the first ones to jump up and attack the media for its insensitivity and lack of ethics. Twitter was awash with criticism and so were blogs. There were calls to rein in the media and complaints that the freedom everyone had so passionately fought to get for the media was being misused. But yesterday, when another plane crashed in Karachi, I saw the whole situation in an entirely new light. When I logged on to Twitter to check tweets about the crash while updating the story on the website, I realised that it is not only the media that was unethical and insensitive.
People jump at tragedy, and they jump at conspiracy and spicy bits of information all the more. Amid the chaos of sifting through tweets that carried information and perspective about the crash I also came across numerous tweets like these:
Who cooked up the name CHIPA ;) its a weird name for an ambulance service #karachi - still cant stomach it
This guy says he heard heavy gun fire just b4 plane crashed in #Karachi / w00t now the fun starts, UFOs?
no it wasn't a UFO. it was HAARP or probably a missile by militants or blackwater
me likes the Blackwater twist > do you think Blackwater had anything to do with #Karachi ;) [jking]
I do not blame the entire Twitter community nor would I judge these bloggers based on a single incident. There were indeed a lot of serious and helpful updates on Twitter that helped spread awareness and possibly assisted reporting and rescue efforts. But, one thing that I did realise after this experience was that media’s sensationalism does not exist in a vacuum. Media barons and decision makers prefer to air gore, tragedy, sex and controversy because the readers and audience like it. Spicy bits of information are highlighted because those are things the readers and viewers jump at. Masala and sensationalism gets the highest number of hits because readers enjoy it. So, can we blame the media for what people want to see and read?
Perhaps all of us need a dose of ethics.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: November 29, 2010
The tweets quoted in the article had been edited for clarity, but lost some of their context as a result. The original tweets have been reinserted.