Social media activism ignores international tragedy

The flow of global news tends to travel in one direction. In his book News Revolution, former professor of communication at the University of Georgia Mark D. Alleyne describes this “structure of global news flows” as largely north to south—meaning media agencies in northern, developed countries hold major influence over southern, developing countries.

In many ways, global news also travels west to east, and the western response to recent events shows the stark differences between coverage of tragedy in key developed nations, and those considered “other” to Western societies through a xenophobic worldview. 

The lack of social media coverage on events such as the United States airstrikes in Mosul, Iraq—suspected of killing upward of 200 civilians—in March and a suicide bombing on a metro in St. Petersburg, Russia illustrate this fact.  

A Colombian mudslide killing approximately 250 people on Saturday April 1 and a chemical attack in Syria that killed and injured hundreds on Tuesday April 4 also show the discrepancies in attention given to international catastrophe.

While the Paris attacks of November 2015 garnered a huge response on social media—including French flag filters for profile pictures on Facebook—almost nothing appeared in response to the events that occurred this past week.

There is a level of dehumanization that occurs when we view tragedies differently due to the country or region in which they occur. It is no secret that the general American attitude toward Iraq, Russia and Syria is not particularly friendly—yet we let this cloud our view of the innocent people who live there. 

We are desensitized to violence, to the extent that we are not bothered when it happens in countries we’re conditioned to ignore or even to actively rally against. The persistence of social media filters, symbols and hashtags for countries we deem important, as well as the lack of media coverage of the distant or developing world, further emphasizes this inherent bias in our subconscious.

It is shameful and disheartening that we continue to perpetuate dangerous xenophobic ideologies—even when we think we are doing good, or spreading awareness. People who experience violence and loss in the countries we are taught to ignore do not deserve the injustice.