Hate Won't Tear Us Apart

On Thursday my work fell silent. The usual hum of a busy newsroom dropped, replaced by a near deafening hush. It was a solemn moment. Around the room, hundreds of reporters who had worked all week to break the terrifying news of the Manchester attacks, cast their eyes down to look beyond their keyboards, and imagine the faces of the people we lost. 

In that moment, I too was lost, thinking back to the minute silences we did in primary school. Sweaty palms clasped tightly into prayers, trying not to be distracted by our uncomfortable plastic chairs or the hum of the classroom's aircon. At six and seven and eight years old we squeezed our eyes tight and tried to picture the great grandfathers who had fought for our country. I remember being caught up in the romanticism of it all, imagining evacuees with labels around their necks, sneaking rationed chocolate from the cupboard. 

Nine. That's how old I was planes began falling from the sky and into the buildings we loved. My prayers changed. I no longer imagined the hazy faces of soldiers in uniform. Instead, I couldn't shake the images of people leaping from the twin towers. Or the pale, ashen faces of the American children who lived on my street . They kept a torn American flag waving outside their house for years after that. 

16 years later and the sky has not stopped falling. Now, paying our respects is not reserved for just one day a year.  September 11. July 7. June 30.  January 7. November 13. March 22. July 14. July 18, 22, 24, 26. December 19. February 3. March 22. April 7. April 20. May 22 2017. Time passes, the dates mount, but the losses never become easier. 

Perhaps most important of all, is not how we remember it, but how we report on it. Working in one the UK's largest newsrooms, I am well aware of the criticism journalists have faced in the last seven days. 

On Twitter, a thread began highlighting the role reporters have to play in the PTSD of terrorist victims. It makes for a troubling and important read.  

Martyn Hett’s brother, Dan, shared a post showing how one journo slid his business card under the door, along with a note to get in touch – all before Dan even knew if his brother had survived the brutal attack. Heartbreakingly, Martyn was named as one of 22 of the victims who lost their lives at the Manchester concert. 

It's reading Tweets like these that I understand people's anger and resentment. Actions like these can be horrifying, heartbreaking and rage-inducing. Who decides what and how our journalists report? Do we still need them? After all,  thanks to hashtags like #manchestermissing, families could rely on Twitter for up to date information on the whereabout of their loved ones. But with the heartwarming accounts of community spirit, resilience and refuge, also came the dark side of misinformation.

Accounts began faking missing person appeals, using pictures of people not at the concert for attention, likes and retweets. Not all those who reported these images did so in malice – in fact, most were simply misinformed, swept up in the tide of grief and panic. A friend of mine shared one of the photos of the ‘victims’. I thought about reaching out to her and telling her that the image she shared was a hoax. I decided against it – purely because I knew her intentions were good and that her Snapchat would disappear within 24hours. 

But some tweets and posts remain,  causing enough damage to last a lifetime.  False information, such as an image of Ariana Grade covered in blood (from her appearance in Scream Queens) was posted with the intention of inciting panic. As reporters worked overtime to search for facts,  trolls threatened to undo all the hard work by weaving lies and interjecting insidious comments designed to spread fear.

It’s because of these trolls that we need journalism now more than ever.  Strong, brave – and yes sometimes relentless – reporters are dedicated to verifying information and bringing you the truth as it happens. Sometimes these journalists need to ask hard questions. But if the alternative is us all believing in whatever surfaces on Twitter – that is a far more frightening reality.

Experts say that as well as using social media to recruit followers and seek attention, terrorists rely on the confusion social media causes to swamp authorities and amplify fear – turning terrorists into martyrs and even inspiring copycats. To rely simply on the internet, or a faceless Twitter user, to provide information might just be the greatest risk of all. 

That is not to say that journalists don’t get it wrong. We can misread situations and make ill judged decisions. We can use the wrong words.  But so too can the public – just look at the hashtag #BritishThreatLevels that many slammed for being insensitive and appropriate so soon after the horrific events on Monday night.

We all make mistakes – the British media are not exempt from that. But please trust me when I say we’re learning. We are trying to get better. We all go into the newsrooms with heavy hearts and the best intentions. We strive to meet our ethical code, to pass exams and tell the right story. We may not always be perfect – but it’s the facts that guide people back to safety. It’s finely tuned research that can offer people relief, advice, or simply help them to feel less alone.

The role of a modern journalist may seem precarious. But the real fear lies in misinformation – and it's the journalists job to snuff it out. At times like this journalist should stand united in their aim and honour those who lives have ben destroyed and show Manchester and its inspirational community that we stand with them. We won't ever let hate tear us apart. 

 

 

 

 

 

Kirsty McKenzie