In the weeks since three girls left Bethnal Green to travel to Syria it has been reported in the press how the family have blamed the police, the security services and the girls' school for failing to prevent them from becoming radicalised and from leaving the country. I believe that most reasonable people would think it beyond the capabilities of the security services, or even of a school, to be monitoring fifteen year old girls more closely than their parents. But the families of these girls are probably not feeling very reasonable at the moment. These are grief stricken people who probably have a much more realistic and horrifying idea of what it is to be a Jihadi bride than did their daughters.
It is natural that the families of these girls are lashing out and seeking someone to blame for this tragedy. To me, what feels less natural is the media compulsion to continuously broadcast their distress. It serves little purpose other than providing the titillation of seeing desperate people saying unwise things.
I was struck by this because it felt like an appalling example of the general trend in journalism to rely on exploiting emotion over substance and discourse. I am usually most irritated by this during the reporting of health stories. When a health story breaks it is now standard practice on many news programmes to feature a discussion between two people; one an expert in the field and the other someone who has been personally and tragically affected by it. What results is usually an emotionally charged, superficial and one sided discussion in which the expert opinion is brow beaten by emotion. This may be good to pique the interest of viewers but does little to add to the wider debate.
Whether this is what the British public actually wants, or whether this is the product of lazy journalism, I don't know, but with the increasing prevalence of social media acting as a barometer for public impulse I feel like this is a situation that is spiraling out of control.
Social media trends are taken as free, snap polls by media outlets and politicians alike and increasingly the content of our TV shows, news programmes and even government policy are influenced by these trends. This results in wild swings of opinion and a hugely skewed representation of what the public actually thinks so that, as a nation, we stagger from one hysteria to the next. As a trend is identified, and then widely covered in the media, the trend gathers its own momentum and soon a minority view, or a side issue, occupies an enormous space in public life.
Just because someone feels strongly enough about an issue to press the 'like' button on their Facebook page does not necessarily equate to them feeling strongly enough to want government policy to be changed in its favour.
It feels like we are undergoing a national emotional dysregulation, fascinated only by extreme emotions and the instant gratification of bestowing fame or allocating blame. Every small success has to be shared and every small misfortune must be punished. This need for sound bites and superficial comment is typified by the fact that the looming election has been largely overshadowed by the argument around the staging of a ninety minute TV debate.
Emotionally dysregulated people lead chaotic lives of intense love affairs and explosive arguments with the moments of stability necessary to achieve anything coming rarely. If we keep living public life like this then national chaos will ensue.