To exist in the midst of a pandemic, by default, is exhausting. The collective sense of loss, of grief and of fatigue is both intensely palpable and seemingly perpetual. It often feels as though the bad news is never ending. Like never before, the 24/7 news cycle is unbearably surreal and frequently acutely painful to pay attention to. As young students just beginning our lives, it appears as though we have inherited a rather bleak and irredeemable version of humanity. The persistent political blunders, the vaccine apartheid, ever richer billionaires, and senseless death in Palestine are examples of just a snippet of the recent news cycle. And let’s not forget, we started the year with reports of armed insurrectionists terrorising the White House, setting the tone for yet another year of bad news bombardment.
Deep into the ‘information age’, our news consumption is no longer limited to voluntarily picking up a newspaper or routinely catching the 10 o’clock news each evening. In 2009, researchers at the University of California found that information consumed by the average American had increased by 350% compared to three decades previously. This is inclusive of consuming a dense 100,000 words each day. The New York Times notes that Tolstoy’s War and Peace is 460,000 words long, light reading compared to the 700,000 consumed by the modern person each week. Twelve years later, with the proliferation of social media, viral infographics, and news notifications, it is only logical to assume that this information consumption has further ballooned. Instagram in particular has cultivated an often judgemental culture of online ‘activism’ centring around the news cycle. The rules of clicktivism dictate that if you don’t post about the particularly poignantly devastating news stories, do you even care? This expansion of consumption to include participation takes news cycle burn out to a new level. A mindless scroll can quickly become despairing.
In the face of this tidal wave of negative information and bad news, it is hard not to feel cynical or even depressed. Our systems and institutions seem dysfunctional at best and totally defunct at worst; repeatedly failing those they are supposed to support – no more obvious than in the context of Covid-19. With so much suffering and downward spiralling being reported the world over each day, you would have to be robotic not to feel a twinge of panic. Writer and activist George Monbiot declares this a positive thing: ‘To be at peace with a troubled world; this is not a reasonable aim’ – a sprinkle of anguish is only rational, then. He goes on to suggest that feeling lost and overwhelmed at the state of the world means ‘you have retained the human values you were supposed to have discarded…You are a deviant. Be proud.’ Perhaps the negative feelings evoked by the news cycle is a good place to start, then. Feeling affected is only a sign of enduring humanity; something we are falsely led to believe is in short supply.
While the news cycle is often a noisy expanse of stories fighting over which gets to be crowned the most depressing, there is some good news to be found. Although, yes, as a species we are facing some devasting problems, most notably climate catastrophe, with the oppressive white supremacist patriarchal capitalist superstructure still thriving, there are flecks of goodness to be paid attention to. It’s just that within a public discourse that often favours the dramatic and shocking, good news is bland and boring in contrast and thus skipped over by mainstream news outlets. When room for good news is deliberately designed out of the news cycle, searching for goodness becomes immensely difficult although not at all impossible. Here, the flip side of social media sites like Instagram is crystalline; sometimes it nightmarishly amplifies the very worst of world events while on other occasions shining a much needed light upon positivity and humility.
A recent example of a disruption in the bad news cycle, thanks to social media, is the story of a community in Glasgow coming together to protest and eventually successfully force the release of two of their neighbours by immigration enforcement. Thanks to pre-existing community networks in resistance to cruel and unjustified deportations, a group quickly mobilised to resist the action of the Home Office. Images and footage of the protest went viral on social media, in turn forcing mainstream media outlets to report on the story. Videos shared far and wide on Instagram showed the two men, Indian nationals, finally being released from the police van they were being held inside of, tears in their eyes. The people of Glasgow united to resist a forced removal in a heart-warming display of compassionate resistance. Such people are what Monbiot refers to as ‘deviants’; people motivated by their enduring human values to say an emphatic ‘no’ to the inhumane policies pursued by the Home Office. This is an instance of not just good news, but ordinary people choosing to elevate and participate in the creation of an alternative kind of news story.
Although the unrelenting nature of the bad news cycle demonstrates the world to be a perilous and heartless place, such acts of kindness contradict this. It is not just in Glasgow, but everywhere all the time that humans create good news stories, though they are seldom reported on. Just recently, hundreds of thousands of concerned people motivated by empathy and compassion, marched in solidarity with Palestinians – driving engagement in the conversation about settler colonialism in Palestine to new heights. In our very own community, students have organised the New Cross Packages initiative, providing free packages containing food and essentials to anyone in need. This project will certainly have profoundly positive effects on the lives of those they help, as do other community initiatives across the country, becoming a good news story on a local scale. These smaller instances of good news, destined to never be paid attention to by mainstream news outlets, must not be forgotten. It is in our interest, to alleviate the onslaught of bad news, to seek out the good news stories that emerge from our own communities every day and to share them with others, through word of mouth or social media. Although the bad news cycle is unlikely to lessen anytime soon, we can choose to participate in the expansion of a good news cycle. While humans will always create bad news, we will always, motivated by a fierce and deviant empathy, create good news too.