Commentary

Media in the face of tragedy

The recent suicides of five gay teens across the United States are all over social and news media. When tragedies such as these happen, the role the media play in justice is vitally important. How the media convey the gravity of the situation, the grieving of the survivors and the memory of the victims flirts with ethical lines, but it’s the media’s job to talk about the tough stuff.

Just this morning, I was invited to a Facebook group spreading awareness about the suicides and calling for people to wear purple on Oct. 20 to show unity and remember the victims. I don’t watch television much, so that was the first I heard about the tragedies – through Facebook. In class today, I read a story in our school paper about the alarming trend. When I got home, I was soon clicking through countless online articles, videos and interviews about the stories. The Twitter nation is flooded with tweets about the suicides and links to more articles and discussions.

I applaud the news media for handling these horrible incidents the way they have. As the “fourth branch of government” and “America’s watchdog,” the media are called to create awareness and promote justice. I feel that journalists in general are being respectful to the families but not vague about the need for change - and that is a line that must be carefully approached.

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Social media are also doing their part. As people update statuses, tweet and share what they’ve heard, others see and learn and spread the word. Social media’s capability to reach masses of people is astonishing, and it’s in times like these that we see the awesome communication power of Facebook and Twitter. Rather than just serve small interpersonal connections, social media show that they can play a much more serious role in society – that of a mass alert system. Social media are slowly becoming what the newspaper was during World War II: that medium that calls for immediate justice.

I think this revolution of social media is a good and necessary thing. With a medium so accessible and with such communication power, Americans have no excuse not to know about a tragedy or a need. Let’s stop claiming ignorance. Let’s keep updating, and let’s change things.

On the flip side of the coin, why didn’t we know about this problem before these tragedies occurred? Facebook – where were you in promoting the Trevor Project before these kids took their lives? News media – where were the hard-core stories about serious bullying and its consequences?

I know it’s hard to spread awareness about something that “hasn’t really happened yet,” or in reality, just hasn’t gained national attention. But the media need to seek out stories that could prevent something like this from happening in the future, before it happens. Social media, keep growing and developing your power of promotion. News media, go deep and keep digging. Be truly committed to protecting the American people. Let’s make some changes to prevent history from repeating itself.

Check out these links for more information about the victims and what you can do to help:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/10/03/MN681FNRML.DTL
http://www.takepart.com/news/2010/10/04/the-5-things-you-need-to-know-about-gay-teen-suicide

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