After world events such as the recent attacks in Paris, there is usually widespread response from the Internet and social media users. This past week, Facebook newsfeeds were flooded with profile pictures filtered with the French flag and many posts supporting and mourning the victims of the attacks.
While it is not wrong to show solidarity for victims of a terrorist attack with a flag filter, we must be critical of why mainstream media outlets often highlight the tragedies of Western nations more than others. Many Internet users argued that events that happened around the same time as the Paris event—such as an Islamic State suicide bombing in Beirut—were virtually ignored or not given as much coverage.
It is understandable that Americans care a lot about the attacks in Paris. France is a similar industrialized nation that many Americans respect and often visit. It is frightening to think that a country similar to America that is far from the turmoil in the Middle East can still be targeted and attacked. It serves as a reminder that strong and powerful countries are not completely safe from terrorism.
Media, however, helps us develop an ethnocentric view of the world. The attacks in Paris should give us a humbling perspective on how dangerous it is to live in parts of the world where attacks like these occur on a weekly basis. If popular media outlets do not emphasize coverage of those attacks, however, we may not even know about them—or even think to mourn them on a public forum.
The third-person effect is when we believe media can influence and control what people think or believe, but we don’t believe it actually happens to us. We may think we are aware of media’s effect on our habits, but many still see the Internet and the world through the media’s Western-centric lens.
Discussing media coverage of terrorist attacks should not become a competition over which attack was worse or which area of the world is suffering the most. Instead, it should be a discussion about the nature of our consumption habits that may influence or skew the way we view tragic events around the world.