The problem with a toxic media (and a toxic culture in general): emergency communications

On the day we left Florida because of Hurricane Dorian, we spoke to four people who had no idea that there was even a hurricane, let alone a major hurricane, let alone one of the worst storms in recorded history. I don’t have cable anymore, one said. Or, I don’t do social media anymore because it is awful. These were people in the path of the hurricane.

Yesterday, I got a panicked call from a family member. “Have you evacuated? I just heard there was this massive hurricane where you live!” She only learned about it because her daughter sent her a panicked text that morning. Her daughter had just learned about it as well.

It’s totally understandable. If you are even remotely normal, listening to the folks in the news media is a lot like you’d imagine listening to one of Trump’s ex-wives would be like. You’ve got a bunch of bitter people who can’t stop thinking about the person they loathe for even an hour. It consumes their lives, and they have become irrational beyond words because of it. They are unhumorous and hyper-literal. They fact check jokes and satire. In a word, the news is bitchy. And no one wants to pay money to listen to a bitch bitch about the person they are hate-stalking. That’s just mentally ill.

It has seeped into everything under the sun. Both Twitter and Facebook used to be venues for keeping in touch and meeting improbable friends. Now they are nothing but hyenas and trolls obsessing over the outrage du jour. And there is only one outrage du jour for them now.

I have not had a Twitter account for years, but I tried following the #Dorian news feed this week to track what’s happening with the hurricane. It’s really no mystery why people tune Twitter and Facebook out these days. 99% of the content is repulsive. And the overwhelming majority of traffic on Twitter involves no interactions at all. It’s like you have a bunch of people who have been muted or blocked making the same sordid “jokes” to the void simultaneously. And it buries actual newsworthy content and expertise in their search functions. The news media plays to the trolls on social media who feed the news media in an endless cycle that most of the country has come to ignore.

Early on in the week, about half of the posters under #Dorian were people actually cheering on a catastrophic hurricane hitting Palm Beach because they associate the city with President Trump on account of that being where Mar-a-Lago is located. It’s far from Trump’s only property in Florida and definitely far from being Trump’s only property in the United States or even the world. But they were frothing at the mouth at the idea of a Category 5 hurricane hitting a city with almost 2 million people because Orange Man Bad.

What’s worse, they understood this was what they were joking about. They liked the idea of killing the swing state that voted for Trump. (Never mind the fact that South Florida did not vote for Trump. Hate does not demand accuracy.) A hurricane killing millions of “climate deniers” in their beach houses, they remarked, endlessly, thousands of them. What a delicious image to fix their hatred on. (Never mind the meteorologists emphasizing that Dorian developed when waters in the Caribbean were below the 30-year average temperature. Again, hate does not demand accuracy.)

I think it is safe to say that no earlier generation in the United States would popularize an idea so utterly sociopathic. But here we are. Sociopathic comments are the new normal.

And make no mistake, this is sociopathic behavior. If you confessed these fantasies to a psychiatrist under your real name, you would be involuntarily hospitalized pursuant to law. Because that’s what sane people do to people who talk this way.

Any news about the hurricane was overcome by journalists publishing endless articles about how Trump thought the hurricane might hit… Alabama. In fact, Trump was warning – days ago, mind you – that the hurricane might impact the Gulf coast. The storm was more than twice as wide as the State of Florida. Mathematically, any Florida landfall would impact the Gulf coast. Dorian having some impact on the Gulf coast was something scientists were seriously considering. Many people wondered if it could cross Florida and go into the Gulf. This is often a concern with hurricanes, because once they make it into the Gulf, they tend to become superstorms. It’s a contained basin with a lot of very warm water. If you watched the emergency briefings, you would know this. You would also know some of the models had paths with this possibility. But the media pretty much only covers what trolls on social media say now. Instead of covering the real impact the storm is having, they tried to construe a comment from days earlier as some gaffe to try to make viral.

The news has become useless. Social media sites are platforms for the worst humanity has to offer now. You can’t blame folks for pulling the plug.

But this becomes a real problem in situations like Hurricane Dorian. People who prefer peace over listening to the hyenas day in and day out can be put in physical danger. It’s hard to get the word out.

Even worse, however, is that people who mean the United States harm are probably watching this phenomenon and contriving ways to exploit it.

People have carried on about how Americans do not trust authorities and institutions anymore, and there are good and bad reasons for that. But this is much bigger than questioning authority. It’s not listening to anyone at all even when it’s important because the noise is clinically insane and all-consuming.

2 thoughts on “The problem with a toxic media (and a toxic culture in general): emergency communications

  1. I don’t have tv but I have followed stuff via YouTube and fb you are soo right about the trolls it’s beyond crazy glad to know yup and the family are safe you have been on my mind

    Liked by 1 person

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