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No news is not good news

In our 24/7 world it’s hard for older adults to work out what is actually news, so how can we expect our social media-saturated teens to discern what is important and what isn’t?

An article posted on ABC News online recently was headlined ‘Are our teenagers ready to be adults?’ and featured the responses of young people asked if they were coming to grips with the prospect of leaving school.

Predictable questions were posed, such as whether they were ready to vote, care for others, leave their schoolmates and even feed themselves. One question, however, stood out for me. ‘Are you ready to choose your news?’

It was a pertinent query in a world saturated 24/7 with useless information, both online and off, feeding a growing addiction to social media. Our filters are becoming more and more desensitised to news and what makes it as we’re inundated with puerile information offering little substance.

One teen suggested that school students be taught the skills to fact-check news stories, observing that everyone has a duty to get the facts straight, because without it we see ‘a normalisation of things that are false’.

I’d go one step further to say we’re seeing a normalisation of absolute BS. Online news sites are drowning in rubbish as mundane hiccups in life are hyped into scandalous delirium.

Much of the headlines screaming at us from these online news sites is driven by social justice warriors, or at least those who confuse social justice with ‘that’s life, suck it up and deal with it’ scenarios. Their outrage and indignation is loud and easily triggered – maybe over an underweight pork brisket, a boyfriend demanding his girl get breast implants or, shock horror, newsflash! a flight ruined by a screaming baby. Imagine!

We witness photos of snippy women offended by… umm… anything; disappointed children excluded from… something or other; passengers furious at… other passengers; drivers irate with… anyone else on the road; and everyone else with their cranky pants on peeved about… well, life.

They test the waters on Twitter or FB, letting their gripe simmer and brew to boiling point as others jump enthusiastically on board to have their say. Enter the online news sites that figure if enough people are getting their knickers in a knot over something, then it must be important. This ‘important stuff’, previously recognised as the mediocrity of life, is then whipped into a brouhaha of ridiculousness.

Taking a short stroll online, I wasn’t disappointed.

The ABC itself had a breathtaking account, indeed it led its radio and television bulletins as well, about a group of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan brandishing a swastika flag above their military vehicle. Of course, it was a really dumb thing to do. The ABC was beside itself, proudly declaring their photo of the offending flag was obtained exclusively.

The trouble is that the photo was taken in 2007.

The Department of Defence when rung recently by an outraged ABC demanding an explanation said immediate action was taken hours after it was hoisted to destroy the flag and deal with the boofheads flying it. Not giving up, the ABC sought a response from Prime Minister Turnbull who, clearly feeling he had to say something, slammed the soldiers’ conduct, describing their behaviour as “completely and utterly unacceptable”.

The story spread to other sites with not revealing the 11-year-old date until the fifth paragraph and the squeezing a quote from the Chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission who described the photos as “deeply troubling and distressing”. Bingo! A story is created. From nothing.

Bouncing across the sites I eagerly clicked on ‘Couple’s open house nightmare’. What? Had they been robbed, assaulted, tied up and tortured? Nup. Someone defecated in their toilet. Yep, of all places to do it, a mystery toilet pooper inspecting their home had used the toilet. The offender apparently left a mess, despite pulling the chain. Unbelievable!

The outrage continued over four-year-old Prince George caught playing with a toy gun, a lesbian couple tossed out of an Uber for kissing in the back seat, horror over a pregnant wife revealing her husband is forcing her to have his parents in the delivery room and the tragedy of newlyweds whose car was stolen while they were on honeymoon. No happy ending for them, their trip was ruined, their new lives all but destroyed, despite the thief being caught and the car returned.

Back to reality and the teenagers seeking lessons on how to ‘choose news’. It’s really up to the news sites to take some responsibility here and stop cluttering their sites with outrage from Twitter and FB. They need to report stories that matter, stories that provoke thinking, impact our lives and educate us. Only then will they earn our trust and ensure the young generations coming through will choose well and choose them.

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