Effects of Increasingly Prevalent Bad News

Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, China are being placed in camps by the millions. Families are being destroyed, religion is ripped away and freedom is extinguished. This crackdown began in April 2017 and the issue didn’t gain publicity until very recently. China is in denial, but evidence is being released and their lies are no longer holding up. The reporters that have risked everything going into the country, who have supported Uyghur refugees and exposed China’s unethical activity are the ones who allow a platform for change. Their stories influence people to feel something and want to change the world.

Human Rights issues are typically pushed into the background by the government until they receive huge opposition from elected officials, activist groups, journalists, citizens, etc. Issues around the world are commonly ignored by individuals that believe they have no power and the government will take care of these issues, but that’s simply untrue. However, on a more optimistic side, the more publicity an issue receives, the more likely change will take place. Journalists quickly become the heroes in the background of human rights issues. Their stories have the power to influence and educate citizens, yet a lot goes into crafting a piece capable of such.

NYT articles about events in Xinjiang

Especially in recent news, the negativity of events seem to dominate the headlines. It becomes overwhelming for individuals to take action when there is one issue after the other. People commonly experience compassion fatigue and the issues of the people get lost in the process. It’s important to understand the news consumed on a daily basis, as well as what affects it may have on mental health and overall mood. Therefore, to what extent are the words and stories consumed daily in news media negative or positive?

Awareness and coverage of the issues in Xinjiang are continuously published with new angles and motivations. There is something keeping people interested and caring without feeling exhausted by bad news. Sentiment analysis can reveal the underlying tone of text and numerically display the feelings and emotions brought forward by a piece of writing. These articles about China would expectedly be negative, full of bad news and suffering, yet the results were surprising.

The first question to look at is: Why is there so much bad news constantly circulating newspaper and tv news channels? Shock value plays a major role in which headline is prioritized, individuals’ attention spans may not venture further than half of the article and it gives individuals an opportunity to care/take action. Positive news calls for a more developed story, may not grasp people’s attention as much and may not feel it is necessary to stay up to date on events. However, a study shows that people don’t really have a preference for negative or positive news, meaning it’s in the hands of news outlets. The study suggests if news outlets shifted the proportion of good to bad news, people would still be interested.

The average American is now spending as much as 11 hours per day consuming media. Information is all around us in every waking moment, this is a blessing and a curse as we have access to more than ever thought possible, just at our fingertips. Yet, this may be affecting people negatively as it becomes difficult to control what media you consume. It undoubtably takes a toll. Research shows this leads to desensitization, pessimism, world-weariness and in people with predispositions to the disorders, could exacerbate anxiety, depression and even post-traumatic stress disorder.

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With news being all around us, the output of news has drastically increased. News reports are being produced more frequently than by the hour. As negative events happen around the world quick headlines can be produced and the continuing story can be released later. Positive news, however, needs time to develop and unfold. This negative perception of the world leaves the positivity to be overshadowed and ignored.

“The peace researcher John Galtung pointed out that if a newspaper came out once every 50 years, it would not report half a century of celebrity gossip and political scandals. It would report momentous global changes such as the increase in life expectancy.”

The human rights issue in China, however, has been extensively reported in a more informative manner rather than with quick shock value. As the sentiment analysis shows, the articles surrounding the topic of Xinjiang and China as a whole have remained relatively neutral with a very slight lean towards positive. When the original study was done for this, using the issue in Syria, the results were similar. This time around, to avoid any discrepancies in the data the stop words (neutral words such as: and, the, a, if) were removed and compared to the data of the articles with the stop words still included.

Sentiment analysis of articles with and without stop words
Another view of the sentiment analysis of articles with and without stop words

As you can see, the data is surprisingly similar. A few shifts are made between the two, but nothing drastic. On top of that, the sentiment hovers just above 0 (neutral) for both of them. Contrary to what was originally expected, these articles don’t carry excessive negativity. It can be assumed that while the articles may hold some negative facts the tone may be in a strictly informative manner, with slight positive call to action moments or positive turn outs of recent events mentioned in the article. Even though it may be considered bad news, the sentiment doesn’t have to reflect that negativity.

A potential flaw in the study is the time-frame. The data extends a week back to narrow in on the details of the most recent findings in the events. However, the data may be comparatively different if it extended back to the beginning of the crackdown in China. I’d expect the original articles would hold a larger capacity for negativity while the current ones keep a more positive/neutral outlook. This finding could be why the reporting has remained so extensive and individuals have not yet experienced compassion fatigue in the way most issues end up.

To conclude, despite the suffering and sadness the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, China experience on a daily basis, the coverage of the issue isn’t overall negative. The articles show a slight lean toward positive and mostly hovers around neutral, which may be more beneficial to society as they make themselves aware of an issue without sacrificing their own mental health or experiencing compassion fatigue. The neutral words throughout an article may not actually carry any significance for the overall sentiment. Finally, the initiation of action lies in the hands of the individual, and understanding the way the daily news affects you can alter your daily life and how you perceive these issues, and ultimately, carry the potential to make a change.

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