Global News Is Bad News
You can’t know it all—and you shouldn’t try.
Please stop reading worldwide news. It is bad for our society and bad for your soul. To be fair, this is not a condemnation without exceptions. For a few of us, reading and writing about national or international news is part of our work. If you are a writer, journalist, policymaker, or a c-suite executive for a major corporation, perhaps you need to be informed about at least some of what is going on nationally or even internationally. But if you aren’t earning at least part of your livelihood from being informed about world events, I strongly suggest you consider that you will be a happier, healthier individual if you kick your news habit.
There are certain things that are simply not worthy of national or international media attention. Even granting that some Americans benefit from knowing about nationalist uprisings in Europe, how many points the Tokyo Stock Exchange rose yesterday, or what foreign power invaded a neighboring country, I submit that nobody benefits from reading about a girl from New York being murdered by her fiancé or four Idaho college students being stabbed in their beds. Notice I provide no links for these stories, because you shouldn’t be reading them and neither should I.
The barrage of national news coverage on such local issues is both pointless and deeply bad. The modern culture, filled with smartphones and endless media feeds to scroll, has conditioned us to consume media without asking why. Starting to ask questions can help people form examined, intentional, and healthier habits of media consumption. Does reading this help my life? Does it increase personal virtue? Does it give me information that helps better the lives of people around me? Does reading or watching this piece of media do anything good for me or my life?
When asking these questions about a good book, a thoughtful essay, or a news article about a topic that affects our professional field, the answer to at least one of these questions will be yes. But ask the same question about a murder that is getting constant coverage in the national news. No, you do not need to read about that. No, it is not doing you or anyone you know any good to follow this story. Unless you are a forensic psychologist or law enforcement officer somehow involved in the case, you just don’t need to know about these things.
Not only do we not need to see such stories, but we ought not to. They are not merely useless, but they are bad for us. Media about true crime stories have captivated millions of people; fans of the genre admittedly call it an obsession. And spending a lot of time, energy, and brain space following true crime topics likely has negative effects. Studies suggest that watching low-quality, “light” entertainment media may lower cognitive ability, as well as decrease civic engagement.
More specifically, following true crime can make people unrealistically paranoid about heinous crimes that could be committed at any moment in their backyard. It can encourage vigilantism, where every consumer of true crime media now fancies himself a detective personally involved in the case. Most important, following true crime stories, whether via television, podcasts, or the hourly news cycle, makes people live in a false world, a community that is not their own.
This segues into the bigger issue: Social media, international news networks, and the internet in general have created a global connectedness for which humans are simply not meant. Sociologists have studied the way the brain works related to various social group sizes (close friends, acquaintances, people we can actually recognize, etc.), finding that the human brain is only meant to handle a certain number of human connections.
This makes sense, because we are meant to live in real human communities. A home of 5–10 people. A neighborhood consisting of a few families. An extended family of a few dozen. A work environment with some coworkers and clients. A church community with perhaps a couple hundred members. These all make up real-life communities, the environments we are meant to live in. This is the scale at which we are meant to communicate, share experiences, work, learn, laugh and cry, rejoice and mourn.
Most people throughout history have spent their lives in these communities consisting of anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred people. This is where we properly experience the joys of new babies, the challenges of providing food, clothing, and shelter, the pains of sickness and death. This is human life.
What is not human is trying to live in and experience everything that is happening in some “global community.” When we are plugged into national and international news sources and participate in social media networks, we drown in human information. And there are terrors and tragedies going on every day, every minute, somewhere in the world. Plugged in this way, we are assaulted daily by the news that buildings have collapsed, natural disasters have displaced entire communities, plagues have destroyed crops, diseases have killed thousands, a murderer stabbed four college students to death as they slept.
Why should we know these things? It is not unsympathetic to suggest that we simply do not need to know about every tragedy that occurs in the world. It is enough to mourn the loss of one’s own grandmother, to be with one’s neighbor when he gets a bad flu, to come together as a church community when a member loses a child, to be with a dear friend who suffers a miscarriage. We love each other and grow more deeply in relationships when we suffer together. The very word “compassion” comes from the Latin term meaning “suffering together.” This suffering is human, and in a way it is beautiful.
But when we are constantly exposed, via laptops and smartphones, to every suffering occuring in the world, we lose our human connection to suffering. We are no longer truly suffering with people. We are just unnatural outside observers watching terrible things happen to strangers. When this becomes normal, we lose a healthy relationship to tragedy. We ought to experience these things with people, not morbidly watch them from afar, gossip about them, and speculate on their outcome, as if we are watching a television show. This is not the right orientation toward human suffering.
When we subject ourselves to more suffering than a human should encounter, in the strange form of electronic media, is it any wonder that studies are finding connections between social media use and anxiety/depression? If we humans are made to live in communities, we are only made for a certain amount of human interaction and suffering. We are not made to have thousands of “friends,” nor to experience thousands of tragedies. It is not surprising that this mass consumption of global suffering takes a toll on mental health.
One final complaint about this problem of broadcasting local tragedies throughout the world: It creates a global platform for those who commit wicked acts. People who have been consumed and warped by evil are inclined to commit the most evil acts. But, isn’t it at least plausible that, when someone warped by evil is living a tragic life that they find meaningless, they are more likely to commit some atrocity (a mass shooting, a series of murders, etc.) when they are likely to become world famous for the act?
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The fact that major news networks give constant airtime to shootings and murders, interviewing bystanders, digging into the background of the killer, is a major problem. Of course, national news coverage is not the main cause of such heinous crimes. But it certainly encourages deranged and attention-seeking people to commit such acts if they know they will get the attention they seek.
Major news networks will probably continue to air constant coverage of these local crimes, because they are motivated by clicks and dollars, not the common good. What we can do is stop clicking, stop watching. You don’t need to know about these things. Such media consumption doesn’t make you more informed in any meaningful sense. It hurts your ability to interact with suffering in a healthy, human, and holy way. It exposes you to more tragedy and suffering than you are meant to experience. It gives a global platform to the wicked deeds of men. And it is bad for your soul.
Turn it off. Stop watching. Stop clicking. You will be a better person for it.