Our Western Media Complex

No entry sign appearing out of laptop computer
No entry sign appearing out of laptop computer

On Jan. 7, 2015, 12 writers for Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine, were killed in a brutal terrorist attack carried out by a branch of Al-Qaeda. On April 2, 2015, 147 people were shot while attending Garissa University College in Garissa, Kenya in another terrorist attack carried out by Somali militants.

An empowering freedom of speech movement followed one tragedy.

A deafening silence followed the other.

In both cases, innocent lives were lost, but the public reaction and media coverage were drastically different.

Americans like to pride themselves on their First Amendment right to the freedom of speech, but also have a tendency to value western lives over non-western lives. Have we become so expectant of violence in places like the Middle East and Africa that we react differently upon hearing about these tragedies? Absolutely. It's awful, and hard to admit, but we are placing value on human lives based on religion, history, and race.

And now, as the year approaches the finish line, history seems to repeat itself.

On November 13, 2015, terrorist attacks struck the heart of Paris. The Islamic State (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which killed 129 civilians and injured 352, 99 of which are in critical condition.

The day before, Nov. 12, 2015, ISIS carried out the same attacks in Beirut--killing innocent civilians at random in a popular area of the city, an urban capital located in the southwest corner of Lebanon. But based on our reactions, you wouldn't know that these attacks were of the same caliber.

"When my people died on the streets of Beirut on November 12th, world leaders did not rise in condemnation," wrote Elie Fares, a Lebanese doctor. On his blog, Fares continues, "Obama did not issue a statement about how their death was a crime against humanity; after all what is humanity but a subjective term delineating the worth of the human being meant by it?"

I hadn't heard of the attacks in Beirut. I was completely unaware. Of course, I immediately knew about the attacks in Paris because I have family in Paris, who I just visited a few months back, but also because Facebook was filled immediately with the French flag.

In a Washington Post article, Brian J. Philips wrote about why Paris received so much attention compared to other tragedies. "News outlets are influenced by their consumers," wrote Philips, "If the media outlet's readers or viewers are likely to feel that an event has implications for them, that will be covered as a more important story than if the events are unlikely to touch the audience's lives."

Within hours of the attacks in Paris, social media was filled with users pointing out that other terrorist attacks happening around the world were not being given nearly as much attention.

It quickly turned into a debate, with fingers pointing in all directions. It's true, the attacks in Beirut didn't receive nearly as much attention as the attacks in Paris did. Parisians were able to "check in" as safe on Facebook, while those living in Beirut were given no such option. Facebook gave users the option to put a French flag over their profile photos, but no option was offered with the Lebanese flag.

Bottom line, one attack is not more important than the other, they're all equally horrible, and it's time we start treating them that way--something we haven't mastered yet, in fact, we aren't even close. Many news outlets, like FOX, CNN, and The New York Times did report on the Beirut attacks, we just didn't click on them. (Look here, here, and here.)

In her Medium post, blogger Emma Kelly wrote, ""Why didn't the media cover *insert country here*?" appears to actually be shorthand for "Why wasn't this story shared extensively on my Facebook feed?""

Our realities are tainted; we're suffering from "Western Media Complex" wherein we selectively pay more attention to news stories involving western lives.

It is, however, important to point out that because we read these stories less, they get shared less, talked about less, posted fewer times, and then overall reported on less.

TIME correspondent Aryn Baker describes what she calls "Taliban Math." Baker writes, "The first suicide bombing--in a market, in a capital city, in a school--was international news. In order for the next bombing to make a story, the number of dead had to be exponentially higher. I tried to pin down a ratio: how many Pakistani or Afghan dead would it take to generate the same newsworthiness as the death of an American?"

So what can we do? It's easy to say that we will become more aware, that we will care more, and read unbiased news sources, but our problem goes deeper than that. It's become a part of our culture, to value what is like similar to us. We've come to believe that liberty and freedom are not concepts that translate to the Middle East because of fundamental Islamic governments and forces.

"When my people died, they did not send the world into mourning. Their death was but an irrelevant fleck along the international news cycle, something that happens in those parts of the world," Fares wrote.

And so, it seems that 2015 will end much like it started. I pray that 2016 will be different, but until we become conscious it likely won't. Race aside, Facebook filters aside, monument lighting and world leaders aside, human hearts beat the same. No matter the religion and no matter the country, a life is a life.