Friday, January 07, 2011

Mass bird and fish deaths = Mass Media Fear-Mongering

2011 starts off with a bang, or rather, a thump.

Many people are concerned about the mass bird and fish deaths cropping up around the globe, with theories ranging from sinister poisonings to apocalyptic warning signs. And, this is just the beginning in what is sure to be a year filled with ominous warnings inciting public hysteria over the impending arrival of 2012, a year that some cultures and groups have predicted as being the end of the world. Do not doubt that the media will take every opportunity this year to engage in irresponsible fear tactics, it is what the media tends to do best, especially when there is money and ratings involved, not unlike the uneventful Y2K scare.

Just this week I conversed with a man concerned over the implications of this phenomenon as a result of over-reporting and sensationalism. He insisted it was the result of intentional poisoning. When reports were released saying that birds had died from Fireworks over the new year as they were startled from the trees, he insisted "Like the government is going to tell you the truth. I'd like to believe that, but you can't trust the government."

One sentence frequently echoed in articles on the subject is that mass critter deaths are common, yet that line gets forgotten in the midst of the remaining article. Mass bird and fish deaths happen all the time around the world and are tracked by organizations such as the National Wildlife Health Center, who assure the public that this is normal and that the problem lies with people linking together events that happen all the time.

Living in the digital age, it's not hard for people to connect dots and "see what they want to see", especially if it means selling papers. This is not a new phenomenon, this was done in the post-Columbine era with school shootings that became sensationalized as was the case with Killer Bee invasions and any number of opportunities for the media to make a quick buck. Much like all these phenomenons, we will forget about this story tomorrow and a new one will emerge.

Fret not, as sad as these deaths are, there are plausible explanations for them. Be vigilant for this selective style of reporting, it will be all the rage in the coming months.

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