Media: So Much, Yet So Little

Misinformation plagues citizens of the globe during the current coverage of the Russo-Ukrainian war, leading to harmful rhetoric being used and repeated.

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By Emily Lu

As a Ukrainian, I am shocked by how conversation around my home country has become so prevalent. Before the American media began reporting on the Russian military conflict surrounding Ukraine, I noticed that most people didn’t know much about Ukraine. My eighth grade English teacher didn’t even know Ukrainian was a language until I told her that I speak it at home. Now, I hear about the Ukrainian conflict everywhere, even in my Art Appreciation class. My family and I have an understanding of the events that transpired before war was declared, and we can fact-check all the news through information directly from the source: citizens of Ukraine. Unfortunately, most Americans have to use news sources in English, which may be reliable but don’t come close to capturing the full story of those who have lived through years of conflict.

Post-Soviet countries’ histories are intertwined with each other in a way that leads many people to the conviction that they are all very similar. Ukraine and Russia, being in such close proximity to each other, are the prime examples. People who had a hard time differentiating the two countries before are now consuming news of conflict and war. Some who have never even heard of Ukraine are now immersed in its complicated history with Russia. Due to this situation, history is being condensed into a single article or video trying to explain the escalation of the conflict. This oversimplification, combined with baiting titles and jokes on social media, creates a culture of misinformed people fashioning harmful opinions.

Misinformation also stems from outlets not reporting on certain past events that are crucial to building the timeline of the war. When news broke of the war in Ukraine, world leaders and the media alike quickly made the statement that it was the first major war in Europe since 1945, which completely ignores the Yugoslav Wars, the Russo-Georgian War, and many other conflicts that have occurred in Eastern Europe. Though the wealthier Western European countries have remained largely at peace, the lesser-known countries have been neglected in news stories. Tensions in Ukraine and Russia started in 2014, but because there has not been major news coverage about their relationship since then, there is a huge gap in knowledge between then and now.

Billions of people rely on news sources, so why are events in some countries overlooked until their climax? Most of the time, foreign events are portrayed in a different light in American media to benefit a narrative. A report on conflict and the role of media by International Media Support suggested that the response of the most powerful governments in the world is heavily influenced by political significance. The media prioritizes one conflict over another mainly due to the concerns of the domestic audience. This behavior is demonstrated by how China and Russia, the main adversaries of the United States, have been prevalent in the media for their current allyship. However, there is relatively inconsistent media coverage of conflicts around the world, such as those in Yemen and Kashmir, and the treatment of Uyghur Muslims. The US and other global powers show little to no concern for human rights violations in these situations. The media follows suit. These issues are brought up for a bit of time, then dropped for the next “hot” topic.

The variability of what country is focused on in the news leaves room for people to turn to unreliable sources for information and make assumptions. Repurposing images for a certain narrative has also become a major problem. An expert on disinformation in media, politics, and public policy shared that in this information space, there is a lot of confusion about sources and less time for verification. Since headlines are made to grab attention, they may use incorrect information that has been spread through other sources and social media. For example, a 2012 image that shows a Palestinian girl confronting an Israeli soldier has been circulated as one showing a Ukrainian girl challenging a Russian soldier in the present day. Misconstruing this type of image may not seem that damaging, but looking at the reach this false information has is important. A French media site and Hindi news outlets have fact-checked the spread of similar disinformation in their areas, demonstrating that it is not hard to create an impact on different parts of the world with false reports.

Media influences the perception of millions, which determines the extent to which conflicts are recognized in powerful countries. Aside from the Russo-Ukraine topic that most outlets are currently reporting on, civil war situations, such as those in Yemen and South Sudan, are dangerously being ignored by major news sources. In an interview with a peace and conflict researcher, the media’s effect on overseas situations was discussed. The conclusion was that news coverage brings awareness to these circumstances and promotes humanitarian aid. Therefore, it is more important than ever to properly research and contextualize information. Unfortunately, when covering large crises, many stray away from explaining the entire situation, instead opting to present the information in a more concise format to make it more palatable to the everyday citizen.

This constant cycle of compacting information leads to the misrepresentation of communities and overall damage to people’s critical thinking. Along with using multiple sources when watching the news, people should be aware of bias in the media. However, the responsibility cannot completely fall onto consumers of news because it is impossible for them to fact-check every single piece of information. There should be a greater weight on the media because they can dictate ways the public makes decisions. Media coverage of foreign events can improve by actually explaining the nuanced opinions and struggles of the people.

Reputable news can be ensured by encouraging high-quality journalism instead of rewarding flashy titles. This progress builds trust in the global newsroom and establishes an expected baseline of reliable information.