My current Netflix binge is NCIS. It’s a procedural crime drama following the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. There are plenty of scenes littered with someone yelling “You don’t have the need-to-know!” In case you don’t know, the term “need to know” is used to protect clandestine military operations from even someone with the highest security clearance unless they absolutely need to know to complete their official tasks.
I’ve been thinking, for so many things that come at me as “news”lately, I don’t have the need-to-know. The information won’t help me or anyone else. It’s a real-life world wide gossip column. It’s a fear machine. It’s junk. So much of it is just junk.
I clicked a link to article the other day that I wish I hadn’t clicked. It was about an awful thing that happened to a child. Disturbed and unsettled, I asked myself why I chose to read that. Did I need that information? Was knowing that story necessary for me to go about my daily life? Did I gain helpful information to prevent this type of tragedy from happening in my own life or the lives of those I love? No, no, no. There was no use in that news for my life. There’s a lot of “news” out there that’s not really newsworthy, that’s not really something we need to know to go about our daily lives. We don’t need to know every awful thing that happens.
I love stories and gathering information and I love using the internet for that. When it comes to news, I try to avoid the most obvious sensationalized sites, but there’s a lot of unnecessary information on the internet masquerading as “news”. That unnecessary information is usually information that stirs strong emotional (but not always intellectual) responses either because of what it is about or because of the way it is delivered. That “news” quickly becomes the topic of conversation online and off. Looking back, many a pointless heated conversation has been fueled by this kind of “news”, exhausting me and distracting me from engaging in more purposeful or meaningful things. So often, it’s this type of “news” that stirs division because it doesn’t just “start the conversation” or “bring awareness”, it purposely pits people against one another, before they even have a chance to think about it.
The danger of this type of media is that it tricks consumers into thinking “junk news” is real news. It takes serious topics and spins them just so, making them look like the real deal. Sometimes it just gives you a quick paragraph about something awful and nothing more – it’s not a story, it’s just laying a foundation of fear, anger, sadness, or heartache. It’s different than if I pick up a US Magazine or click on a TMZ link knowing that those types of media contain gossip and fluff. I don’t pretend the information I get from those sources matters for my life or is important to consume. I know it’s junk news. I don’t do something like base my political leanings on it or argue with my sister about it. Likewise, there are websites dedicated to crime and if I wanted to only know random awful things, I could go there. I don’t need to click a facebook link someone posted about something that happened to someone last year in Maryland. Unless the sad and awful story is followed up with a true call to action (not just fear mongering or telling me to “boycott all the things”), an inspirational ending, a truly useful warning or preventive technique that will save my life or the lives of others, or bears some significant historical, political, social, economic, educational, or religious insight, weight, or meaning – I don’t need to know.
Wouldn’t it be great if we just stopped taking in “news” that we don’t need to know? Wouldn’t that leave room for so many other things? Wouldn’t our news related conversations be so much more conversational and interesting and so much less “you’re an idiot” or “the world’s gone to hell in a handbasket”?
Wouldn’t it be great if before we took it in or shared it, we used a filter of “Does this stuff have a true purpose beyond yanking everyone around and getting people worked up?” If we did, I’m guessing a bunch of stuff wouldn’t be making it through.