On October 14, 2017, one of the worst truck bombs ever experienced in Africa ripped the capital of Somalia, Mogadisho. On a global scale, this blast was only second to the 2016 attack in Iraq that killed 341 people in Karrada. This particular attack was so horrific that even a former Al-Shabaab leader was pictured donating much needed blood. As of October 16th, almost 276 people had been declared dead with 300 hundred injured. This number is likely to increase in the coming hours as the rubble is sifted through. Due to the intensity of the blast, there is a very real chance a large number of the dead will never be identified. One of the victims of the attack is Dr. Maryama Abdullahi who was to graduate from the medical school this week and whose parents’ joy and anticipation has now become unbearable grief. Another was Ahmed AbdiKarin Eyow, a Minnesota man who prayed at the Dar-Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington. I’m not sure if you saw this in your regular news outlets or if it even crossed your social media platforms.
If you haven’t heard this news there are a couple of things I would like to point out. The first is that mainstream news outlets were incredibly slow to cover this story. It would appear that coverage of the attack lagged behind public outcry over the silence of mainstream western news organizations and also by most social media users and platforms. Of the traditional news organizations that did cover the attack, only The Guardian had it as a cover story, a leading online story, and has provided continual updates during the after-math. The second is that our social media views are curated using algorithms which play a large part in affecting what we see on our chosen platform in ways that we as consumers do not understand. Thus, if you do not ‘like’ news stories or follow journalists that cover international events, your chances of seeing this attack on your feed were minimal. The third important factor to consider is essentially how we empathize. As social beings, we are often much likely to empathize with those that we share affinity with the most. We are wired to show empathy to those that look like us, speak like us, could be our siblings, friends and other family members i.e. those in our ingroup. Lest we forget, journalists are as much a product of their society as they are trained professionals. Thus, an explosion in Mogadisho is likely to be interpreted as just ‘another day’ in the Somalia, a country that has been continuously ravaged by al-Shabaab in the recent past. As such, its victims are not part of the ingroup in the same way a victim from France, Belgium or Canada would be. It is probably due to a confluence of these factors that you did not see the news about the worst truck bomb in Somalia and the continent in general.
I would like to pose a few questions: In today’s hyper connected world, how many international news organizations do you follow on your platform of choice? How many non-American news organizations, such as al Jazeera, do you read? These are some of the practical choices we can make to diversify our news consumption habits. To this end, I implore you to be more adventurous in your news consumption. This, I believe, would be the first step towards learning about events such as the attack in Somalia.
j. Siguru Wahutu is a 2017-2018 visiting fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and a Ph.D. candidate in the Sociology Department of the University of Minnesota. He previously was the 2013-2014 and the 2015 Bernard and Fern Badzin Graduate Fellow in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (University of Minnesota).