Fear & The Media


Happy Friday Virtus Family.

It’s 1938 in America, the night before Halloween in New York, many residents are sitting down to listen to their regular evening radio broadcast. What followed was an evening of terror and mass hysteria.

Unbeknownst to much of the listenership, Director Orson Welles & Announcer Dan Seymour were performing a radio adaptation of the 1898 novel, The War of the Worlds. An adaptation that many listeners mistook as the real deal, an actual alien invasion advancing on the City of New York.

What transpired that evening & for much of the following morning was an almost nationwide panic. There were reports of mass stampedes, suicides, fights & a level of fear that this was in fact, the end of the world.

Of course, as we now know and as many residents found out when they read the Halloween Edition of the papers, this was not the day the aliens invaded. This was a day that the power of mass media was highlighted, amidst the broadcast hysteria and subsequent panic that impacted millions of people.

Since 1938, the dispersal of media has changed significantly. In our globalised world, we now have access to practically all information known to man. Not only that, but it is a mere click, swipe or Google search away. Secondary to the plethora of information, we also have access to almost instantaneous news bulletins, live streams, videos and posts. All accumulated from a myriad of sources and placed conveniently in front of us on our phones, computers and televisions.

Although the dispersal of media has changed significantly, our ability to critically analyse and make distinctions between what is real and what is not has not followed the same trend.

Access to knowledge does not bring with it the same level of understanding. Amidst the noise we are presented with, the line between what is true, and what is not, has become increasingly blurred.

Both social media and mass media are trillion-dollar industries, built on the need to be able to engage our attention & keep it. Unfortunately, nothing engages our intention like igniting our primal instincts to be safe and to feel like we belong. Fear sells. It’s as simple of that, and in a world where information is free, news outlets, social media posts and media companies need to keep upping the ante to keep us engaged. They do this by framing a specific perception of the current reality to align with the narrative they want to portray. We even do this, when we are talking about our day with our loved ones, or trying to convince a friend to watch a movie we loved.

A current example of this is the number of new COVID Cases and the number of deaths associated with these cases. There’s been somewhat of a social media uproar around the ‘misrepresentation’ of the number deaths, with officials not properly articulating that the total death count includes some people already in palliative care. Understanding that those most likely to die from COVID are those with co-morbidities helps to create a clearer picture around these deaths, and potentially alters our view of the cause of these deaths.

By not properly articulating the compounding factors to these deaths, the authorities can frame the conversation to attempt to justify their decisions around the Stage 4 Lockdowns and other regulations.

As much as I’d love to criticise those making the decisions (we are all frustrated by this) leadership is hard. You must take many competing commitments and make difficult decisions based on the information you have at the time. It’s easy to criticise and to say what should have happened retrospectively. Like I’ve spoken about before, this is a drop in the ocean relative to the span of our lives.  Stay home and keep those who are vulnerable safe. Anyway, back to the topic at hand….

Much like you have a responsibility for the food that goes in your mouth, you also have a responsibility for the content you choose to consume. The pages you follow on social media, the news you subscribe to, and the people you listen to all contribute to your perception and current world view, so choose them wisely.

Of course, there is not enough time to sift through every piece of information, so we naturally create filters to listen to that which aligns with our beliefs, also known as biases.

The media manipulates the information to fit the narrative it wants to sell you, this can be frightening, but we do the same thing to the stories we tell others (and ourselves).

Before you consume and buy into anything, take a mental step back and rather than accept the information as true, read/watch it with a grain of salt, look at your own biases & examine the biases from the source you are paying attention to.

“How may I be wrong about this?” is almost the best question you can ask of yourself.

It’s human to be wrong. It’s human to want people to believe what you believe. It’s human to be scared when you read sensationalist media broadcasts.

But much like the residents of New York, eventually, you will find the truth. And if that truth is an alien invasion, hopefully, Tom Cruise is there to save the day.

Be safe, be kind & be amazing


p.s The Virtus Winter Olympics kicks off next week, we would love for you to be involved.

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