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Just carry on: how to be a moral global citizen in the depressing world

At 10:31pm on 21 September 2023, I opened my BBC news app. The sexual assault allegation of Russel Brand swarmed the headlines, followed by Sunak’s net zero U-turn and the five people in Britain charged with spying for Russia. There was Lincolnshire’s “Elderly woman discharged to stranger’s home”, and the World section highlighted that Poland stopped military supply to Ukraine and Fox News’ chairman stepped down. There were too many words and devastating photos. It is strenuous to be a moral global citizen.  

According to the United Nations, global citizenship is a belief that individuals are members of culturally diverse networks rather than isolated societies. Global citizens consider their civil responsibilities to transcend national borders as they are committed to working towards a better world. The idea of global citizenship emerged with globalisation, which enhanced interconnectedness between different countries and the movement of people worldwide, making it harder for people to distinguish which pieces of news are relevant to them and the nation they belong to.

While global citizenship sounds like a fancy concept about how we should care about the well-being of humanity, a ‘global identity crisis’ can be quite painful. I spent the first 18 years of my life in Hong Kong and moved to Britain two years ago. I knew I was responsible for reading British news when I first came here, but it was very difficult for me. I did not know the political leanings of the news agencies nor understand the British political system. I did not feel like I belonged in British society and was still emotionally attached to my home. The news in Hong Kong, which was over 9,500 km away, was more relevant and familiar to me. At the same time, being ignorant of local news gave me an overwhelming sense of guilt. 

Global news consumption has become more arduous even for those who are not suffering from an identity crisis

Various academic research has revealed that news consumption and sense of identity are positively related. People tend to be more interested in the news in alignment with their sense of identity. In recent years, people have been increasingly aware of their global citizenship, especially among the younger generation. However, geographical distance, lack of emotional attachment, and alien socio-political context would make people less motivated to care about foreign news. Sense of identity could be more complicated for people outside their home countries feeling rootless. 

Global news consumption has become more arduous even for those who are not suffering from an identity crisis. The Reuters Institute launched an annual Digital News Report to study the pattern of news consumption in retrospect. The one published this year suggests that the proportion of people who avoid news rose from 29% to 38% over the past five years. For Britain, the figure doubled to 46%. There are numerous reasons for news avoidance. Some respondents found news like the state of the British economy and the Ukrainian war mostly “emotionally draining”, whereas others were annoyed by the politicisation of all topics, ranging from race to sexuality. Misinformation is also an issue. While reliance on social media as the predominant source of news continues to increase, overall trust in news has shrunk to 40% this year. Pessimism in the news and difficulty in obtaining trustworthy information have aggravated people’s news fatigue, but they wish to have news that feels more relevant and helps them make sense of the complex world. 

The public needs news to understand the contemporary world, but the repeatedly terrifying stories make them reluctant to consume it. Taking the summer of 2023 as an example. The British media began August with a devastating refugee boat incident, followed by the trial of Lucy Letby and the unsafe concrete in schools. On a global scale, the section on the Ukrainian war has been ceaselessly updated for over a year. The planet was collapsing with the Hawaii fire, Moroccan earthquake, and Libyan flooding. It seemed predictable that there must be something about the British government’s inability, wars, and natural disasters in the news feed the next day. Then, what is the point of reading the articles one by one?

Reading the news is a pre-emptive effort to prevent the world from becoming worse

News fatigue can have a catastrophic effect on civil society. When the public are desensitised to tragedies, vulnerable groups in society and human rights organisations may lose support on the ground. The public’s indifference to current socio-political affairs is favourable to the expansion of authoritarian governments due to a lack of opposition. Thus, in order to incentivise ourselves to read the news every day, we should first acknowledge the importance of news consumption. It is not something for fun. It is our responsibility. It is a pre-emptive effort to prevent the world from becoming worse.

Furthermore, we need not and should not demand ourselves to know everything. It is impossible to do so, and the pressure to fully comprehend everything will exhaust us easily. Though it may not be the best way of news reading, I scroll through my news apps and try to read most headlines and their summary. Then, I will read the full articles related to the topics I am interested in. I also continuously follow a few issues in depth like the Ukrainian war and refugee crises. This method not only helps me stay updated, but also allows me to understand some issues profoundly and thoroughly.  

In addition to news reading, we could watch videos on YouTube or listen to podcasts while jogging or cleaning our room. It is crucial to consume news through a medium we genuinely enjoy. Regardless of the medium, we should not forget to absorb information from sources across the political spectrum. We can also read the comment section to gain insights into other’s views. It can prevent our worldview from being trapped by the echo chamber and algorithms on social media, which may create misinformation and distort our perspectives. 

We must not normalise this terrible world

Diversifying hobbies and expanding social circles are good ways to broaden our horizons as well. I can learn about a new socio-political affair or controversy every time I write for the student newspaper and attend a screening hosted by the Documentary Society. I meet many elders in the local community through volunteering, and they always tell me about recent local news. Making friends with international students also enables me to know the culture and political landscape of different countries through daily conversation. Extra-curricular activities and conversations with people from diverse backgrounds are gateways to learning new knowledge that we can further dig into in the future. 

There are many different ways to keep connected to the wider world and society. No matter what method we use, it is vital to consume the news in a correct attitude. It is true that most news nowadays is negative and it seems that policy makers never do something correct. However, remember that a government should be democratic, innocent civilians should not suffer from wars, and the planet should not get warmer at such a staggering pace. If we feel angry about our government not listening to public opinions, we should apply the same moral standard and dissatisfaction to authorities of other nations. We must not normalise this terrible world. Stay angry. Stay sceptical. The world should not be like this. 

Last but not least, if we really feel overwhelmed by the suffocating news, we can just take a little break. Stay away from any news and social media for a day. Being mentally and physically healthy is the prerequisite for pushing forward social changes. 

As students in the cost-of-living crisis, we may find it difficult to donate a decent sum of money to animals or human rights organisations. However, just do whatever we can do. Spend some time learning about what is going on in the world every day, and avoid being foolish and ignorant. Kindness and knowledge are a mandate for the world to become a better place.   


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