Feeling threatened can bring out the worst in people. When Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was able to shoot and kill Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial and infiltrate Parliament on Oct. 22, two places many University of Ottawa students have been to without fear, it reminded us of our vulnerability.
In the midst of the crisis, with the downtown core and our campus on lockdown, it was hard to discern what was fact and what was speculation. Social media has made it easier to spread important information, but it’s also made it easier to spread misinformation and fear.
Since the incident, reactions have a wide and varied range, all motivated by fear. Fear that we will be unsafe, fear that we will lose freedom, fear that the wrong people will be blamed, fear that we may be implicated, fear that this could change how the world sees us, and fear that it changes how we see ourselves.
But we should not be debilitated by fear and we should not allow it to divide us and distract us as we move forward.
One thing we should take away from this experience is the need for everyone to be vigilant in using our critical thinking skills. The media has a responsibility, but consumers have one as well. As students we learn to think critically about our readings and studies, and we should be able to take those skills and apply them to the wider world around us.
With social media making it possible for one random person’s comment to be widely disseminated, we have to be choosy in what we give credence to and be thoughtful in what we choose to share.
Credible media sources strive to only share facts that are verifiable. In a crisis, rumours spread quickly, but major news sources try to ensure their reports have been verified by police and reliable eyewitnesses. After the crisis, these same news sources will look for bias and try to present varying, credible viewpoints.
Ordinary citizens should strive for the same commitment to the truth. We should evaluate the credibility of the media and the sources they choose to speak with. Consider what stake each person might have in this incident and how that might colour the things they say. If we retweet other non-media persons, consider their motivations as well.
It’s no different than evaluating the motivations of a leader in a politics class, the reliability of the narrator in a story studied in an English class, or the implications of an entity’s interests in funding a study in science.
In the aftermath of a crisis, we have to continue to be critical in spite of our fear. It may be comforting to support solutions that limit the freedom of those we perceive as threats to security, but we have to consider what rights we have the potential to lose as well. Finding balance requires listening to both the words that politicians are saying and all of the implicit things they are not saying.
The ability to think critically both in the midst of a crisis and in its aftermath has wider reaching implications. We should be considering the motivations behind every news story as well as the actions taken by people we know. This is not so that we become cynical, but to go forward as a nation of careful thinkers and thoughtful evaluators. A university education may not guarantee a job, but it should ensure that graduates are able to evaluate the world on a deeper critical level.