Do We Have To Reach a Tipping Point?

Pamela Chan, Editorial/

Back in the summer of 2012, I shared the following comment on Facebook along with a link to a news story about Syrian refugees living in northern Iraq. It might seem hard to believe – considering what is happening in northern Iraq now – that they would be taking refuge there.

How times have changed.

“Here’s a story about Syrian refugees living in northern Iraq. Hopefully they will be able to go home in the near future.”

Over the years I also shared content about Bidna Capoeira’s work in the refugee camps.

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In the 3 1/2 years since I shared my comment on Facebook, Syrians have endured a lot.

  • Bombings.
  • The use of chemical weapons.
  • Continued displacement within Syria of millions of people due to the drought and fighting.
  • Staggering numbers of family members and friends, including children, who have been seriously injured or killed.

From time to time I share content about the Middle East on social media (Facebook and Twitter) because I have many friends and contacts who are either from the region or lived there when my family lived in Iraq.  I know that not all of my contacts on social media have a connection to the region, so I have always been conscious about the content that I share and the frequency of my posts.  I monitored the frequency of my posts about Syria too.  Whenever I posted this content, a handful of contacts across the social media platforms that I use would click “like”, leave a comment – which could include other information – or retweet/reshare the link.

This past summer, as Syrians arrived in Europe in large numbers, my social media homepages quickly filled up with photos, videos and links to articles about Syrians.  People who had never engaged with my posts over the years were sharing this content and writing that we should sit up and take notice of what is happening to Syrians. While I was happy to see this concern, I wondered why it had taken so long for this content to arrive in my home page.

In the last few days I have seen social media updates on my home pages – that were written all over the world – discussing how Canada is welcoming Syrians.

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As Canada welcomes Syrians to communities across the country, part of me is asking “where is the next Syrian crisis happening right now?”.  What is happening right now here in British Columbia, Canada and elsewhere that isn’t getting enough attention?  Will we have to reach a tipping point – such as a Syrian father and his child being tripped by a now famous callous journalist in a random European field – before we will sit up and notice?

So many Syrian children died before people worldwide discussed how a Syrian child died (alongside his young brother and mother, it should be remembered).

Are there circumstances that will never get our attention – even if the issue at hand involves children dying? I can think of one topic outside of Canada that is discussed by a handful of people I know on social media. There are times when their posts flood my homepage but they are the only ones who share content. Sometimes it feels like they are screaming out to the world “won’t anyone take notice?”.

It should be noted that not everyone uses social media even if they do have an account. You’re not required to share any opinions about what is happening in the world at large. A choice to not share any content doesn’t indicate a lack of concern. We shouldn’t look at a specific person and say “look at him – clearly he doesn’t care because he has nary a word to say”. But what we can do is look at trends. How, when and where is information being shared or is this content appearing at all?  One of the most common responses I will see to a popular media story (aka “trending”) is content shared by people monitoring similar situations elsewhere.

“If people care about Y, why don’t they care about Z?” This sentiment will be followed, over the course of days and weeks, by links, videos and photographs showing another story – another viewpoint.

What matters most is the way in which journalists reflect what the general populace is saying.   If we want to think that the work of old-school journalists doesn’t matter as much anymore, consider how often the content that the average person shares is a link to a New York Times, Washington Post, Globe and Mail, Guardian, or The Atlantic piece, for example. And the news outlets do pick up on content that is being shared and trends related to the sharing of information on Twitter and Facebook. When there was push back in response to the “yoga gate” story here in BC, I was advised one morning that my tweet was shared on the CBC website. The collective opinion of social media users helped to form the story that the media covered. Was the negative reaction on social media the reason why corporate sponsors pulled out of sponsoring this event? We can only speculate.

Will there be issues – such as child poverty rates in British Columbia – that continue to bubble up to the surface in the news, or appear as Christmas news stories, and then return under the surface far from our social media home pages?

Do we need the mainstream media to dig their teeth full throttle into a story before we will really sit up, take notice and start having discussions amongst ourselves online and at the proverbial water cooler?

10% of Lebanon’s population are refugees.  Some of them have been living in basic conditions for many years now.

It must be cold there in the winter. In fact I know it is because I remember huddling by a space heater in my bedroom getting ready for school in the winter time – in Baghdad.  Yes, it gets cold even there.

Journalists report that refugees have been on the move for a year.  But that’s not accurate.  Many have been displaced for much longer. Maybe we were paying attention 2, 3 or more years ago to their plight but we’re only now – collectively – speaking up.

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