Your friendly neighborhood news feed is once again dominated by stories that center around the impacts of this third wave. I find it interesting that what you see is truly based on who you are. I also find it interesting that who I am feeds my own anxiety being fed by what I read. This is a rather vicious cycle, and the media is not helping.
I am a parent with kids 12 and under. What I see over and over again is news that reflects my concerns about returning to school with one child who is simply too young to be vaccinated, and another who, although vaccinated, can still bring this new variant home with him.
I see the news about governors in states like Florida and Texas making it illegal for schools to mandate masks for kids who are too young to protect themselves. This adds to my anxiety, since I live in Austin and am affected by these political actions.
When I speak to friends and colleagues who don’t have kids, they have no idea about any of this. They are not inundated with the stories and facts I get, simply because they don’t click and read the same content that I do. Surprisingly, some don’t even know kids 12 and up are eligible to be vaccinated. Almost universally these people are oblivious to the challenge that face those of us with young children.
Wearing masks and protecting these children is indeed a choice we can make as parents, but these choices have implications that can create social stressors which kids that age should never have to face. These stressors can be as impactful as kids not being in school at all, which puts parents in an incredibly difficult position. That being said, I digress.
I miss the days when your news came from a few independent sources, was uniform, and everybody basically saw the same content. You could spread a simple, consistent message, and it would reach everyone.
When people gathered by the water cooler, they had the same facts to discuss. The playing field was level and it led to a more natural, calmer discourse. People could trust the news.
The advent of the internet, and specifically the proliferation of social media as the main source of “news” for people, has fractured the landscape and made it difficult to know whom to trust.
From time to time, I will go to a fringe website simply to see what they write, and I find it fascinating. The stories on those sites will take a fact which is rooted in truth and add a point of view or color it with a slight change that skews it and makes it no longer factual. That “based on a true story” component is the dangerous part because it makes the discourse difficult. When someone takes a fact and spins it, you end up arguing the fact when you meant to argue the opinion that was based on it.
Social media algorithms are there to create a myopic view and bring you more of what you like. At least in this case it’s more of what you read, even if you don’t like it.
From my own perspective, I absolutely hate the rathole that I get sucked into when reading about COVID and my kids, because it fosters such anxiety. It seems to be unavoidable because of the way media works these days. It is its own self-fulfilling prophecy.
Another challenge lying in all of this is: Do I need to feel the anxiety I feel after reading the news? Could there be a world where I just read the news, digested the facts and was able to process it for my own decisions without the pressure of the world driving me in one direction or the other? If these governors truly believe that people can be trusted to make their own decisions, should they also not allow the media and their words to be used against them to pressure those decisions one way or the other?
That would be my hope. That politicians have enough backbone to stand up to the media and force them to become impartial again. Force the media to report on “just the facts” and stop twisting the words that come out of their mouths.
Let’s find a way to get back to a simple, consistent message again. Remove the politics. Remove the hyperbole. Just the facts, less of the opinion. Trust the human species to do what is right? Maybe that’s simply asking too much today.