Looking through the lens of a camera: The media’s distortion of already struggling countries

afghan_border_police_in_herat-2011

Photo courtesy of Daniel Wilkinson

By Hanna Kim

Social media shortens our attention spans, leaving us likely to avoid the truth beyond the keywords we see so frequently. Because of all the devastating news reports and heart-wrenching pictures on social media, as well as the constant bombardment of headlines with the words “Afghanistan” and “death,” the country is now more associated with war and devastation than with beauty or potential.

With the awakening of the social media age came a more subtle movement: scrolling. Because most social media websites are structured in a picture by picture format, its users are getting better at comprehending information in a shorter amount of time.
Studies by Heatmap service provider Clicktale show that people used the scrollbar on 76 percent of the pages. Usability expert Jakob Nielsen shows that on phones, 50 percent of the users tend to process information within ten seconds and 90 percent can do it within 14 seconds.

Fourteen seconds is enough time to receive the information, understand it, then store it in our short term memory. However, 14 seconds is not enough time to establish a strong emotional connection that compels people to help alleviate the suffering of struggling populations.

Not only is the shortened attention span affecting the victims of the war in Afghanistan, the lack of coverage, or rather extended coverage, is also distorting our perception of developing countries.

“This year, American economic concerns, the midterm elections, and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico each earned more than twice as much news media attention as the war [in Afghanistan],” Brian Stelter of the New York Times said.

Through the eyes of media and photography, our perception is limited to what the camera wants us to see. For Afghanistan, war and destruction remain as the topics of interest. Only a few pictures of a warless Afghanistan can be found. In a certain picture, despite the stunning mountain landscape rising above lush green farmlands, the focus is still on a small army vessel.

The constant bombardment of disheartening pictures has left many of us numb to the violence that takes place in these countries. Even though the pictures do not stop, the amount of shock felt by the people on social media lessons to the point where we lose motivation to take action.

Afghanistan is not the only victim of the distorted perceptions that result from looking through the lens of a camera. As a country that shares its name in the title of the rising terrorist power, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Iraq rarely sees any headlines that do not refer to a terrorist organization. As well as numbing us to the violence, the media goes one step further and manages to make us fear this country. We are less likely to establish an emotional connection with the people of this country when all we are shown is the murder done in their name.

“The media does a lot of things to give us information, but it’s also keeping us from realizing stuff about countries that we don’t have good access to. It’s important to remember that these are actual countries and they have sides that we don’t know about. The best thing is to always keep our minds open,” junior Pedro de Marcos said.

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