Things are getting better not worse: how the media may be misleading you

Robert Pimm
Robert Pimm

Things are getting better not worse.  But it is human nature to be more interested in bad news than good.  So that is what the media give you.  Don’t be misled into thinking the world is worse than it really is.

‘I saw this terrible news’

‘I saw this terrible news today.’  My friend, a sensible person, is distressed.  ‘A terrorist group is breeding babies to be brought up as fresh soldiers for their cause.  How can we resist such fanaticism?’

‘Don’t worry,’ I say.  ‘It’s probably a mix of propaganda and sensationalism.’

The Internet is part of the problem

I’ve written before about how the Internet is filled with misleading nonsense (“a vortex of vacuity; a crisis of kaka; a whirlwind of piss-poor polarisation”) in my blog The Internet.  7 reasons why it will destroy civilisation.

Lesotho

Lesotho: one of the most beautiful countries on earth has a low life expectancy – see below (Photo RP)

Tuchman’s law is terrific

I’ve also written about the elegant Tuchman’s Law (hit the link for the full article), which says: “The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five- to tenfold (or any figure the reader would care to supply)”.

Analysis shows why most news is bad

So I was delighted this week to come across a learned article in Austrian newspaper ‘Der Standard’ (in German) which rates, on the basis of 7,000 Facebook postings by Austrian newspapers, the proportion of each journal’s online posts as “positive”, “neutral”, or “disturbing”.

What they found was that the more sensationalist the newspaper, the higher the proportion of “disturbing” articles – up to 39% in one case, compared with around 5% in the least alarming media.

Why?  Because, according to the study, “negative news attracts more attention than positive news”.

Bad news makes more money

In other words, on-line reporting tends to follow the following cascade: REPORT LOTS OF BAD NEWS→GET MORE HITS→MORE ADVERTISING REVENUE→MORE MONEY

The findings of the Austrian study back up with statistics the arguments set out in my two earlier blogs.  Media outlets are filling their pages with worrying, often misleading, news, in order to generate cash.

Why we think things are getting worse not better

The result of this misleading news is that people are worrying more than they should about the state of the world.  The world population is growing out of control, right?  Wrong: see Hans Rosling’s brilliant DON’T PANIC: a communications masterclass.  But everyone’s getting worse off?  No, the opposite: look at this incredible chart of life expectancya good surrogate for living standards. It shows life expectancy from 1800-2015 for all countries, produced by Rosling’s statistics institute, Gapminder.  You can see changes over time by hitting the “play” button underneath the chart (it’s great!)  Or you can select different countries on the right-hand side.

Poor Lesotho

According to this data, sadly, the lovely country where I lived for six years as a child, Lesotho, has a life-expectancy of only 47 years, having tumbled from over 60 years in 1991 partly as a result of having the highest rate of AIDS in the world.

But mostly, things are getting better not worse

But overall, in the past 20 years, while living standards have been static in many “developed” countries, increased living standards in India, China and parts of Africa have lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying everything is rosy.  Humankind possesses the technology, and the stupidity, to change those positive trends for the worse (i.e. screw everything up big time – Ed).  Climate change, pollution, social issues and conflicts provide plenty we can, and should, be concerned about.  While things may be getting better for most people, for some countries, groups or individuals they are catastrophic.

But the global picture is far from bleak.  Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise – particularly if they’re trying to make money by doing so.

P.S. I hope you have enjoyed this post on why things are getting better not worse.  You can read many more of my posts on happiness and life at my existential tab.

If you enjoy fresh, original writing, you can friend me on Facebook or sign up for my weekly newsletter (you can unsubscribe anytime you wish).

Share:

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin
Share on whatsapp
Share on email

Sign up for my weekly updates

…and receive a FREE short story!

I won’t pass on your details to third parties / unsubscribe whenever you wish

4 Responses

  1. I always turn to Hans Rosling’s TED talks when I’m in danger of being overwhelmed by the tide of negative ‘news’. His death robs us all of a uniquely positive voice.

  2. Diese kluge Analyse will ich nur mit einem Zitat von Timothy Garton-Ash erganzen: er bezeichnete die Ansammlung von Horro-Fakes als “Internetkloake”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles