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Is Social Media Changing Perceptions of Extreme Weather?

Does social media change the way we view the world? The evidence seems to suggest that it does.

Does social media change the way we view the world?

The evidence seems to suggest that it does.

Research from a professor at the San Diego State University, Jean Twenge, notes that social media is subconsciously changing the way we think and our response to various things that happen in the world. Another researcher from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Dr. Ali Jazayeri, also said that social media has a direct impact on our lives, changing the way we feel and behave.

One particularly strong example of how social media skews our perceptions can be seen in the weather and climate environment. For instance, a post by Craig Baird in 2016 notes that 2016 wasn’t the first year in which extreme weather destroyed lives in Regina. In 1912, a similar hurricane killed 28 people and injured hundreds more, but the cyclone in 2016 is the one that gains the most attention.

Craig notes that the amount of attention given to extreme weather today could seem to indicate that weather problems are becoming more common. However, the reality may be that we’re simply more aware of what’s happening in the world today, because of our social connections.

Is Weather Becoming More Extreme?

A tornado in Regina during 1912 is something that only the locals and their family members would know about. We didn’t have access to the same technology then that we have today. Information wasn’t readily available, as it is in the digital age. People couldn’t look up news on Twitter or speak to their friends about what was going on thousands of miles away via Facebook.

Today, information is a lot more readily available. Aside from the news reports we get on the television; we also have countless other ways to learn about the latest catastrophic events and weather conditions that take place around the world. With so many people posting online about different weather issues, there’s a growing perception that extreme weather is becoming more common.

The same concept applies to crime. For instance, now we can see crime reports from anyone, anywhere in the world, we could say that crime has gone up. However, the reality is that crime has been dropping drastically since the 1990s.

According to experts, out skewed perception of the weather and other things comes from something known as “Mean World Syndrome” – a phrase that actually appeared long before social media. The concept suggests that mass media makes the world think that the world is a lot more dangerous than it is, by drawing direct attention to the bad things that happen.

Initially, it was the television and news reports on the radio that created this idea that the world was a horrifying place, full of dangers around every corner. Now, social media is amplifying this concept.

Do We Really Know As Much About the World as We Think?

According to Dan Kulak, a meteorologist with Climate Change and Environment Canada, the reality is that we’re all more aware of what’s going on – but we have a skewed view of how common certain events actually are. In 1991, we didn’t have video cameras and cell phones. The only time we learned about things was when they were reported to us.

The number of dangerous weather events and other newsworthy issues isn’t necessarily increasing – it’s just that the focus is higher on these things than it used to be. Additionally, because people on social media prefer to talk about the latest big trends and world-changing news stories, there seems to be more tales of things like weather abnormalities and storms than the birth of new puppies for instance. There’s no evidence from a meteorology perspective that the weather or instances of severe weather are getting worse. However, tornados taking place thirty years ago wouldn’t have the same amount of attention that they have today. If a storm happened in the UK and you were living in the US, you never would have heard about it before the internet and the rise of globalized television.

Now, thanks to social media’s ability to bring people together from different walks of life, it’s impossible to ignore whenever a major weather event happens. Even if you’re nowhere near the place where the event takes place, you’ll still get an update on your social media page or see someone talking about it on your Facebook feed.

How Concerned Should People Be?

The skewed perception that we have of weather events in the age of social media is complicating the question of how worried we should really be about our climate. Ultimately, it’s important to always be aware of extreme weather alerts and the things going on in your local area. It’s also important for people from all backgrounds to carefully consider the dangers of different behaviors that may affect the climate and the world around us.

However, we shouldn’t be getting too caught up in the idea that there are endless emergencies waiting on the horizon. Experts say that it’s just as important to be aware of the non-severe weather and storms that we’re facing. People should be taking action to protect themselves against all kinds of weather dangers and paying attention to the guidance given by their local governments and meteorologists.

Just because things like tornadoes are gaining more attention these days, doesn’t mean that this is the most dangerous form of weather available. Lightning, floods, and other storms can significantly cause damage to a location, city, or family. The key to staying safe in these situations is knowing how to respond before the issue is allowed to go too far. 

Advice from the professionals suggest that it’s important to stay aware, alert, and informed about the latest weather conditions, but don’t let the idea that terrifying weather is growing get the best of you. The world is more connected now than ever. There are upsides to this ability to share, but there are downsides too – and an increased fear of extreme weather could be one of them.

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