One of the most disturbing facts of the violent and politically charged summer we have been experiencing has nothing to do with facts at all. It’s that whatever people see on television or read in a headline, they are taking as reality. These sound bites, headlines, and click bait are being interpreted by the attention-deficit culture breeding around us as facts, when they are not exactly so.
Take either of the recent events involving the death of an African-American person at the hands of police that has been flooding our news. To the credit of social media, we got in one case live footage– and in the other near instant footage– of what was happening. This is also, however, to the detriment of fact. There is a saying that perception is reality, and this is distorting our view of the facts of the events in both of these cases.
Let’s compare what happened to how it would have been reported before the advent of social media and cell phones giving us instant snippets of information. In this scenario, the event would have taken place (say, a police stop wherein a police officer shoots a person of color and they die as a result) in the view of only those who were there at the scene. Then, in order for the information of the event to get to those of us who were not there, news reports would have interviewed both sides to figure out what exactly happened. They would interview the police, ask probing questions to find out their side of the story. Then, they would have interviewed the civilians in order to find out their side of the story. Then, taking equal attention to both sides the reporters would disseminate the information to us with a complete picture of the facts as one best can see it from both sides.
This is not what happened in Baton Rouge or Minneapolis.
In both cases, we received live or nearly live footage from the scene. In both cases, this footage was being given to us from only one perspective, that of those who felt the victim. In both cases, this footage was given to us only after the events that led to the climax of violence had already taken place, hugely distorting our perspective of the events; no matter how much we felt we were witnessing a true perspective of what was taking place, jaded by our empathy for the victim, we were not getting enough information about the leading events that had occured to get us to this moment that would allow us to have a proper perspective.
But this didn’t seem to matter. Maybe it’s because we are used to viewing our news on television, albeit from reporters and journalists who had at least attempted to bring us proper perspective of the story, but because the medium felt familiar we allowed it to give us the wrong impression about facts. Or maybe it’s because we felt empathy for the victim, and that we were only allowed the victims perspective to feel empathetic toward, that we allowed our emotions to cloud our better judgement that tells us we need all the facts before deciding what to think.
Maybe it’s both. Maybe we allowed ourselves to interpret the events in a way that would fit our own personal messaging. This is definitely the case for those who used the events for political gain.
Some people, however, did not fall prey to passing judgement on the events knowing that they did not yet have the full dissection of facts, understanding also “you weren’t there so you don’t know” kind of reasoning. This could be because our agendas run contrary to what one would initially perceive from seeing the events on social media would allow one to perceive. I hypothesize this is more the case than we would like to believe, since we would like to think that, no, we are just the smarter ones. I think we all fall prey to emotional thinking when it fits our own agendas.
And so we must sometimes put our feelings about certain things like this to the test. If we feel a certain way, can we substantiate it fully with facts? A young Harvard professor did just that. Roland G. Fryer, Jr. completed this study to verify whether his interpretation, media’s interpretation, and society’s interpretation of police violence was justified. Roland is a young African-American male, what would be considered the typical victim of police brutality in America. He then told the NY Times “It is the most surprising result of my career.”
I won’t go long into the facts of the study since it has been passed around the internet and news media quite a bit. But succinctly what the study proved is that despite there being some bias in non-lethal police brutality towards persons of color such as using handcuffs or pushing the person against a wall, there were no differences in lethal force used between African-Americans and whites in his study. No difference.
That would mean that when we take away our social media, emotionally-inspired, one-sided view of the situation of police shootings in our country we find our perspective of the situation is factually inaccurate; and at the very least deserves a step-back look at how we have reacted towards the police officers who serve our communities. And truly what needs to be done, is an apology given from our mass media to both the public and police officers across our nation for not doing their jobs to properly vet the facts, and report a proper perspective on them. Which has led to further incitement of racial warfare and attempting to force a wedge between the people of this country.
Take Roland’s example in your own life and take some time to examine the facts of this and any series of events to see if your perspective of those events is not jaded by social media giving you only one side of the story, and mass media not doing their job to properly give you perspective. Remember, we are not being presented the facts although what we are seeing is being interpreted as such. News media has gone from journalism, to simply “let’s have a discussion about something” and it has left us fact-starved.
And I will leave you with this thought: has true journalism been lost to the instant gratification of social media?