Recently, students speaking out against gun laws in the USA have been accused of being ‘crisis actors’. Just one of the conspiracy theories that have surfaced recently, this theory claims that these students are following pre-written parts for the camera. Syrian teenager, Muhammad Najem, was attacked online and by mainstream media platforms after he posted videos showing the devastation in Eastern Ghouta. In 2016, Bana al-Abed had her motives dissected by the media after she reported her life in the besieged Aleppo on social media.
All these teenagers have used social media to speak out about violence that they are facing. But, instead of sympathy and understanding, their stories have been met with skepticism and they have been personally attacked for reporting their reality. Teenagers and children are victims of adult made conflicts and lose their voice in the constant talk about politics. For seven years, Syrian children have been casualties of conflict and have been reduced to a number. Students in the USA faced unfair accusations, to dilute the horror of their story which has also added a layer of skepticism to their important message. I believe that the prevalence of fake news, combined with the dehumanization of victims has created an environment where children face skepticism and attacks for reporting their reality.
Fake news has become more prevalent on social media; Michael Radutzky, a producer for 60 Minutes, said that fake news is “stories that are provably false, have enormous traction in the culture and are consumed by millions of people.” Fake news has become a noticeable phenomenon on social media, particularly after the 2016 Presidential Election, which saw numerous fake stories circulated. It is due to this that news spread primarily on social media is met with skepticism. However, social media is an important platform for children in conflict areas or who have faced violence to share their stories. It is an accessible platform which gives them a voice, but this voice is being lost amongst fake news and skepticism.
Another factor to consider is the dehumanization of victims in these conflicts. For children in active conflicts, they are often reduced to numbers and the longer the conflict lasts, the more impersonal the stories about the victims become. With the constant stream of news, consumers become desensitized to the violence these victims are facing and as such, begin only associating them with another number. This is problematic as the victims stop being individuals who are experiencing violence and when they try to show their reality, it is hard to create sympathy and action. For decades, Palestinians have been working towards humanizing their struggles by creating their own media and spreading their stories on social media. This action of humanising a conflict is difficult as it means seeing confronting stories, thus making it harder to ignore. Children who are trying to show their reality on social media are faced with attacks because they are showing a confronting truth which is difficult to process.
Children facing violence have the right to have their voice heard. They shouldn’t be attacked or accused of being actors for showing their reality to the world. Fake news and the dehumanization of these victims has made sympathy hard to find but it is important that these conflicts are humanized again. Conflicts and violence have a human impact and they cannot only be reduced to numbers and everyone has the right to show their reality. It is these stories which show the real impact of these violent events and make them tangible things. It is essential that children who are already victims are not further victimized by the media. Their voices matter too.
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