Column: Why trending topics are limiting our news coverage

Whether it is the aftermath of an earthquake in Haiti or Japan, where locals are still rebuilding, or  Kony 2012 news providers have failed to cover the aftermath because readers and viewers have failed to care about it. (Andrea Contratto/Flickr)

With today’s efficient means to provide quick coverage of current events, anyone can find a fresh news story on the Internet in a few minutes. Because of this, it is all too easy for readers to disregard certain news topics and favor others, moving quickly from one to the next. Unfortunately, this – combined with an increased presence of news in social media – has reduced current events to a series of trending topics that the general population has deemed important enough to be read from a webpage sidebar.

While major current events do make their way into the general realm of trending topics, they serve a more temporary purpose as “the things to know,” often becoming hashtags instead of being respected as the news that they are. As a result, issues are quickly forgotten as a new story emerges as the next trending topic.

For instance, when BBC reported on the militant Islamist group Boko Haram kidnapping 276 Nigerian schoolgirls on April 14, 2014, the incident received widespread media coverage. Newsreaders around the globe learned about what they thought was a new terrorist threat; they did not realize that the group had already had a presence in Nigeria for years prior to this event.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the group formed in 2002 and began taking consistent militant action in 2009. Bombings – especially school bombings – became a common occurrence, yet barely any of these tragedies received media coverage. In fact, The Guardian reports that the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project have found Boko Haram responsible for 13,508 civilian deaths in Nigeria, the Central African Republic and South Sudan. Few knew about Boko Haram until the 2014 kidnapping, when people began to rally on social media around the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. Both the public interest and the hashtag died out soon after.

Most of the current coverage on the event is from affected Nigerians, who use resources like CNN’s iReport system, which allows average people to report news. One iReport from a man from Lagos, Nigeria reminds people that while 57 girls have escaped, not a single girl has been rescued.

However, the iReports are unverified by CNN and therefore will never reach a wide audience. Now, a year and a half after the incident, Boko Haram continues to terrorize African nations, with a series of suicide bombings in Maiduguri, Nigeria just a few days ago that killed 34 people, a CNN report said. Again, the incident received little media coverage.

2014 also saw another forgotten news story in Hong Kong, when pro-Democracy protestors took to the streets after China put restrictions on universal suffrage, a CNN report said. The media gave the Umbrella Movement wide coverage, and millions of people all over the world knew about the young protestors who used umbrellas to protect themselves from tear gas. But now, as the report notes, changing public opinion caused police to clear the protestors off the streets, and Hong Kong’s rejection of a bill from Beijing “maintained the status quo.”

Young protestors like Joshua Wong, the face of the movement, have continued their battles with smaller issues, without the same publicity. Student protestor Glacier Kwong, for instance, has started an appeal to “Please Help Hong Kong,” but no one knows enough to support her and her fellow protestors and #UmbrellaRevolution has virtually disappeared.

Whether it is the aftermath of an earthquake in Haiti or Japan, where locals are still rebuilding, or #Kony2012, which has died out despite the fact that there are still countless child soldiers in Africa, or even last week’s bombings in Ankara, Turkey, which are quickly being left behind, news providers have failed to cover the aftermath because readers and viewers have failed to care about it.

Maybe some of these events could be considered history, but if the conflicts are unresolved and victims are still struggling with them today, why should they be left in the dark? Yes, when news stories become trending topics, they raise awareness on a broader scale, but for awareness to truly become activism, people must express interest in the aftermath before following social trends from one topic to the next.


Alex Oliveira is a contributor to the Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at alexandra.oliveira@uconn.edu.