I live-tweeted a whole revolution in 2011. I posted pictures, videos, I wrote a few blog posts…but mainly I tweeted an almost minute-by-minute account of what was happening during those 18 fateful days in Egypt.
I wanted the world to know. I wanted the world to hear. I wanted the world to see.
I’m not sure I knew what I expected the world to do once they knew what was happening, but it was important to me for the world to be on our – the revolutionaries’ – side. It was important to me to have the events documented as historic evidence of what we went through and what we faced.
I am very aware of this when other things happen in the world.
Yesterday, three young Muslims were shot to death, reportedly execution-style, in their U.S. home in what seems to be a hate crime. Two days before that, 22 Egyptians died trying to get into a football match. The police played a major role in their deaths. A few days before, news surfaced that ISIS burned a Jordanian pilot alive while in a cage. A few days before that, a terrorist attack in Sinai resulted in the deaths of 32 military personnel. Three weeks earlier, two gunmen killed 17 people working for a media outlet that published cartoons mocking Islam. In the days in between, a young Egyptian mother was shot dead while demonstrating in Cairo, ISIS executed God-only-knows how many civilians, people in Syria and Iraq are being killed and tortured, there are countless political prisoners rotting in Egyptian jails…it just goes on and on and on.
Every single life is important. Every single one. Every single life is a story; there are mothers and fathers and siblings and spouses and children and friends. Every story is worthy of being told. Every story needs to be heard, needs to be seen, needs to be known.
When horrendous and great things were happening in Cairo between January 25 to February 11 – and beyond – I needed the world to know the details. I needed the world to know how I felt about it all and how it all impacted me. I am a person. I have a story. I need my story to be known.
Every single person deserves that same amount of attention from the world.
But by becoming acutely aware of these stories and the reactions to these stories, I am, oddly enough, slowly losing my hold on reality. I am slowly becoming more and more anxious. I am slowly feeling more and more helpless.
Social media has been a very important means for me to keep in touch with my family and close friends while I’m thousands of kilometers away on another continent. It’s made me feel that we’re not so far away from each other after all.
But social media has also been a way for me to keep in touch with the goings-on in Egypt and the world. When something happens, I usually hear about it first through social media.
When I get my news through traditional means, I choose a news outlet I’m comfortable with and watch their half-hour nightly news program or go onto their website and scan through the main stories. I choose a news outlet that will give me what I feel is the most balanced reporting. I choose news outlets that do not publish graphic images and videos. I get a single, short dose of the news, I become aware, and then I can move on with my life.
But it’s different with social media. One friend on my timeline will post something about a news story. Then another does. Then another. And suddenly I am bombarded with varying accounts of the same story from various outlets, many with the graphic images I have chosen to avoid. My friends then post their reactions to the story. They are upset, as would be expected. They express how upset they are. They try to process their thoughts and their feelings about the news by sharing them through social media with their friends. I do the same thing. I’m doing it now.
But the result is that I become flooded with wave upon wave upon wave of negativity. I begin to feel unsafe. I begin to see the world through a black lens. I wonder if the devil has taken over the world. I feel like human beings everywhere have lost their humanity. The stories I hear are too crazy to begin to comprehend. Even those that do not involve death. Vladimir Putin was visiting Egypt the other day. Reading details about the visit was like being thrust into some sort of a messed up time warp that superimposed our time onto the times of the 1960s.
If I can pull my head out of social media for long enough, I can see the good in humanity. I can see the good in life. I can put the bad into a context of good. I can see evil in its true size; significant, yes, but not all-encompassing.
I don’t want to deprive people of having their stories told and heard. I want to hear those stories myself. As a writer and as a journalist I want to play a role in telling some of those stories.
But I also need to find a way to keep a hold on reality and on my sanity. “The world” can’t do anything about all the bad things happening in it if it’s too depressed or anxious to move from in front of its proverbial laptop.
I’m finding it very difficult to benefit from the good of social media while keeping away the bad. I’m finding it very difficult to keep myself aware with what is happening in the world and giving people the right to tell me their stories while also keeping hold of reality and sanity.
I don’t know how to solve this. But I do know that we can’t keep going this way.
Our stories must be told. Our stories must be heard. But it’s a matter of who tells those stories and how they are communicated.
What’s happening now is not healthy. It’s not helping. It’s making us sick.