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Opinion: How the Paris attacks won the internet

By Shannon Williams
Fri 16 Jan 2015
FYI, this story is more than a year old

On the same day 17 people were shot dead in an extremist attack in Paris, an Al-Qaeda bomb went off in Yemen and killed 37 people. 

Late last year, a man held a Sydney café hostage, which resulted in the deaths of two people.

The next day, 150 people, mostly children, were murdered in a Taliban attack at a school in Pakistan. 

At the beginning of 2015, over a period of nearly a week, Boko Haram militants slaughtered hundreds as they took control over 16 towns in Nigeria. 

Following the Sydney hostage crisis, the hashtag #illridewithyou spread like wildfire and the cause was picked up by thousands of media outlets all across the world. 

We’ve seen the same happen following the attacks in Paris. #jesuischarlie has been trending around the world in support of the journalists who were killed. Public figures, celebrities and world leaders have all stood up to condemn the actions of the terrorists.

The problem I have is not a new theory. And it is by no means to take anything away from the awful things that have happened in Sydney or Paris. And I’m not sitting here on a high horse thinking I’m any different; I’m on the ground with the rest of mainstream media with my head hung low. 

When news broke of the terror attacks in Paris, New Zealand’s main news sites were plastered with articles. Plastered. Smothered. Wallpapered. There were numerous updates, live feeds, image galleries, headline after headline after headline.  On that same day, 37 people were killed in a bombing in Yemen. You would only know this if you scrolled down to the World section and found the one article on Yemen. One. 

I know people do care about innocent people dying in Yemen. And I know there are plenty of people out there who don’t rely on the NZ Herald, Stuff, the 6pm News or John Campbell for their news. But it’s called mainstream media for a reason. Most people do rely on it. 

I also know the attack in Paris was unexpected and shocking, and have huge implications for free speech and journalistic integrity. It deserves the feature spots it has been getting across every news site in the world for the last week. The hashtag going viral is important and raises awareness for further issues besides terrorism. 

But the question I have for you is, where is Yemen’s hashtag? Where is the social media and mainstream media outcry for all the deaths that happen every single day in these countries? 

It can be argued that the Paris attacks were ‘worse’ or ‘more news worthy’ because it were journalists and police who were killed in what is supposed to be a secure nation. It’s close to home. Attacks in Sydney or Paris means it could happen here, or any other secure country.

It happens rarely enough that when it does, people are shocked and they are scared.   By contrast, bombings by Al Qaeda or the Taliban or slayings by ISIS or Boko Haram in Yemen or Nigeria or wherever happen all the time; it’s more normal, less shocking. Perhaps we are so far removed from those countries and those people that we don’t see ourselves in the same corner. Until something happens to one of us while we are there. 

News is so readily available nowadays with Twitter and Facebook sharing news items and sparking discussions, the internet allowing us to see what is going on on the other side of the world in real time, and online news sites popping up everywhere and providing new content and coverage 24/7. The good news about this is that allows more people to be educated about issues around the world they may have otherwise not known anything about. 

Without the internet, without social media, without online news sites, the world wouldn’t have been able to get complacent that 37 people were blown up by terrorists. 

It makes me wonder what people in countries like Yemen think when the internet is flooded with news about France when something so horrific happened in their own country at the same time. When supporters and world leaders flocked to Paris in the thousands to stand up against terrorism and stand up for the right of free speech. I wonder how many supporters and world leaders flocked to Yemen to stand up for the right to walk down the street and not be blown up. 

Movements on the internet, social media and across online news sites allows the world to feel a sense of uniformity when horrible things happen in countries that are like our own. It makes are feel united as we stand up against the bad guys. I only wish the internet, social media and online news sites made us all united, across the world, for the world, against all the bad guys.

The problem is that mainstream media dictates what we care about. As a result, more coverage is given to those topics, making more people care about it. We are all suckers. I take it the Ebola crisis is over now?

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