Public Sphere: Don’t absorb everything

Public Sphere: Don’t absorb everything

We live in a borderless digital society, where we have access to information beyond our imagination. There is a space for us to express ourselves and communicate with people in a blink of an eye. We access information and have various communication channels at our finger tips.

Digital technology brought us to a life where everything is accessible in a fast-paced mode. Are we able to cope?

Last week, an 11-year old girl stormed the internet with her story of hate crimes, racism, and Islamophobia and gained the sympathy of the nation. Her sympathizers were not limited only to Canada but even other countries. Locally, ordinary citizens up to the local and national government officials stood by her, including Prime Minister Justine Trudeau, who spoke of religious tolerance.

A day after the news of the ‘incident’ went viral, Toronto police concluded that the ‘attack’ didn’t happen, another shocking news for the public. It was followed by a statement of apology from the family of the girl who allegedly fabricated the story.

This news resulted in different reactions and emotions. The comments on every news article on various news websites were full of confusion dominated by frustration, disappointment, and anger blaming the girl and her family.

Numerous opinions came out from different sectors of the society. On the onset, ordinary citizens are crying foul, feeling deceived and made to believe of the story and therefore want to charge the child, forgetting she is a minor and it went further to including the mother or the entire family for allegedly “conniving” with the girl in making up or coaching the girl with the story.

Then comes the question of how or why did the school or the Toronto School District Board allow the child to be exposed to the media, or leak the story or call for the press conference before the investigation was fully done? No one seems to have the answers to these.

With all the attacks and negative implication to the child, Danielle S. McLaughlin, Director of Education Emerita, Canadian Civil Liberties Association shared a sensible opinion. On her blog in HuffPost Canada, she stated: “I believe we owe her an apology for not remembering that, even though she is well-spoken, she is still a child.”

She believes that instead of calling for the girl’s apology, it should be vice versa, to which I agree. We will probably not know what motive the girl has for making up that story, but the spread of it to the public was definitely not her fault but of the adults surrounding her, who victimized and traumatized her by putting in this limelight that only brought her shame and humiliation.

Meanwhile, Toronto lawyer Emma Rhodes expressed the same view that the child should have been protected and “let her be 11”.

Did the news industry’s pressures or competition to get the news out as fast as they could, likely to blame for these troubles as indicated by Jeffrey Dvorkin, director of journalism program at the University of Toronto – Scarborough Campus?

Looking at the situations that surfaced from this news, it supports the description of the public sphere as stated by Alan McKee according to Dahlgren (1995) and Fraser (1990) is a place where information, ideas and debate can circulate in society, and where political opinion can be formed’. (p.4).

Although we have a public sphere that gives us a venue to express ourselves and can be heard in any way. This freedom of expression we are privileged with are both beneficial and destructive in its own way.  It is best to learn to filter the news and put boundaries on the way we absorb the information we are presented within a public sphere and be smart to know what’s fake news and what’s not.

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