Breaking News Or False Alarm?

It’s time for a reality check. War seems more widespread than ever. Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Gaza, Afghanistan, etc. Pope Francis warned that a "piecemeal" World War III may have already begun. Violence on the streets seems to be growing too.

But stop the presses! It seems that may not actually be true.

“Violence exists,” says Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker. “It hasn’t gone down to zero. But past decades were far more violent.”
False alarm, also called nuisance alarm, is the deceptive or erroneous report of an emergency, causing unnecessary panic and/or bringing resources (such as emergency services) to a place where they are not needed

In some cases, repeated false alarms  may cause people to develop alarm fatigue and to start ignoring most alarms, knowing that each time it will probably be false.

With the advent of social media, there are far too many news organisations - all reporting on the same things, making us feel like the world around us is in some sort of violent maelstrom.  We're in an echo chamber of viral headlines and branded content, all intended to create a bottom line. 

This constant churn of harrowing news is physically and psychologically unhealthy, and you don't need to be directly involved in a tragedy to feel its effects. To the concerned viewer, this pain can feel unavoidable or even necessary. It might be a little bit of both. The truth is, in an age of unfettered access to the worst of humanity, we have to act as our own gatekeepers if we want to stay sane.

The competition has increased, the fear has increased, and need for more and more news increases as more players enter the ring. Reporting has taken on a whole new definition, now that technology has made us all into reporters and foreign correspondents.  

Psychologists have studied the connection between repeated exposure to negative news items and an increase in feelings of depression and anxiety among news consumers. Some people may experience compassion fatigue or secondary traumatic stress, becoming less sympathetic to the plight of others over time due to an overabundance of stories of violence and suffering in the media. Others may experience a reaction similar to those who have experienced trauma firsthand.

In this age of alarmist news dissemination, you must build internal defence against false breaking news and online posts which are ordinary events, exaggerated or events that never happened.

It’s also useful to see the bigger pictures, of course. “Consciously focus yourself on the evidence around you that the news is picking out the extremes and the bad things,” Dr. Mary McNaughton-Cassill, an associate psychology professor at the University of Texas-San Antonio said. In other words, understand that you’re seeing a lot of bad news not because the world is an inherently evil place, but because news outlets — not to mention individual Twitter and Facebook users — have lots of incentives to broadcast explosively negative news stories.

1. Sampson, Rana; United States Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (2007). False Burglar Alarms (Technical report). USDOJ. 

2. Schwarzer, R. (1997). Psychosocial Notebook. Retrieved from

3. Wikipedia 

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