As we begin a new year, will 2020 eventually be remembered in history as the beginning of the Third World War?
Three days into this fresh year and #WWIII was trending on Twitter after a U.S. drone killed an Iranian general and Americans were told to leave Iraq for fear of retaliation. There was even published advice on where to hide in the case of nuclear war.
And there are ongoing protests in Hong Kong.
Oh, and Australia is on fire.
In such an overwhelming time, perhaps you should consider this (late) New Year’s resolution: make sure you are getting your information from a credible source.
Recently, a gif of Australia on fire was making the rounds. People shared it as a picture from space of all the fires currently burning.
Turns out, it was a composite of all the fires in Austrailia that have burned this season, not that are burning now. Also, the glow of the fires had been enhanced. This doesn’t mean the situation isn’t horrific Down Under. It is, but this was not an accurate representation of what is actually happening there.
It seems obvious, but sadly necessary to say that we can’t take gifs, memes and online jokes as sources of information. Sure, they’re ubiquitous, easy to digest, some are even funny — who doesn’t need a little bit of humour at the supposed end of the world? — but what is their larger impact?
“Gallows humour” is nothing new. This term refers to the historic walk to the noose, when there would be a few moments for any last words before a criminal was hung. Historically, some used the moment to laugh in the face of death by cracking one last joke. During the previous World Wars, soldiers would turn to humour to cope with the horrors they saw. Here in Squamish, a Second World War veteran told The Chief that she still has the cartoon she and other wireless operators passed around, amusing themselves between translating messages from base to pilots.
So, humour isn’t bad, even at a time like this, but it can’t be our only way of interacting with what is happening.
What happens today will one day be history. Are you paying attention? If most of what you currently know about the situation or tensions between global powers is from social media and memes, we’re certainly in trouble.
Read news stories on situations from multiple news outlets. Question everything. Read up on the history of conflicts you see in the news. (Heck, Encyclopedia Britannica is still a good source: www.britannica.com.)
After all, hindsight is 2020.