Friday, May 8, 2015

Social Media Revolution and Big Media Laziness

We have all heard the term "Lamestream Media" or some variation of it. Depending on your political persuasion, you might see it as an obvious ploy by people like Sarah Palin to discredit any and all news reports about themselves and distract people from their own ineptitude, or you may see it as an honest indictment of the mainstream media. The fact is, it's probably both.

 Don't look so smug, lady, that sentence still called you an idiot. 

We all have some understanding that the media exists to sell us a story and that we shouldn't believe everything we hear on the news. We may recognize that a lot of it is bullshit or biased, but we still tune in, expecting some semblance of reality or professionalism. It's similar to how we all know not to believe the "Diet" or "All Natural" labels on foods yet we still hold on to the belief that there must be some level of truth to the claims. I truly believed that companies can't lie to sell their products because I was always told false advertising is illegal. They can't just make up shit and print it on their labels...the consumer protection board will handle it if they do!

Turns out, I'm dumb. Companies have no problem lying their asses off. Yeah, it is illegal, and some do get caught and have to pay out fines, but at that point the damage is done. The company has made millions and the general public tends to believe a company's initial claims despite any retractions or lawsuits. How many people still think VitaminWater is a healthy alternative to soda?

It's maddening but I can't blame individuals for their misperceptions; the media is happy to go along with corporate lies. Or police lies. Or government lies. 

A lot of that has to do with money interests and the few giant media conglomerates that control the news. Some news sites or individual articles are paid for directly by advertisers who absolutely have a say in what gets published. That has a crippling effect on the news we receive, without a doubt.

However, not everything is a conspiracy. Or at least, the conspiracy doesn't cover the whole thing. A big reason, maybe even the biggest reason, for the poor quality of news we receive is the sheer laziness of the media. So on one hand, the media is controlled by corporate interests, devoted strictly to getting clicks on their websites, thereby focusing on "click-bait" stories. On the other hand, they are simply fucking lazy. If a police chief or a government official or a company spokesperson tells them a story, that's what they go with because all they have to do now is summarize the report. Why question anything? When has the government ever lied?? If journalists decide to take it a step further and do some actual investigative journalism, most don't go too far out of their way. Instead of finding witnesses or interviewing people involved in the events, they can simply turn to the world's biggest supplier of firsthand news: Twitter. 

In February, 2015, three Muslim students were killed by a man in North Carolina. Apparently he was enraged over a parking dispute, but the man had a history of lashing out and even threatening the three students and their family. They felt it was largely because of their faith. We won't get into the absolute obviousness of the reasoning behind the murders (hatred of Muslims); instead we'll focus on the coverage of the incident.

Most media outlets rushed to deny any faith-based motive for the murder and instead went with the official police report that said it "may have" been caused by the parking dispute, completely ignoring the family's claims of past harassment and hatred. Unlike the people shouting "damn liberal mainstream media!" I don't think the mainstream media has a liberal slant; however, there are plenty of media outlets that have clear biases, both liberal and conservative. The more liberal minded media outlets focused on the faith aspect . Although I have a very liberal viewpoint on most issues, and I do think the violence was motivated by Muslim hatred, I still have issues with their coverage.

Besides pushing the faith angle heavily (which I understand since mainstream outlets were denying the faith angle heavily) they also used a lot of social media feedback. Now this can sometimes add context or... something (I guess?) to the story. It allows readers to hear what others are saying about the story, which is good. They could go talk to people, or I don't know, go on Twitter themselves, but sure, it's legitimate "journalism." Anyways, on any article nowadays (and even on some television news, especially ESPN) there's always a few tweets included in the coverage. Now, I love Twitter because you get to hear from some very smart, funny, and/or informed people, and often you can hear firsthand accounts from people involved in the story. It's also ridiculous because you get to hear from every backwater hobo with a wifi connection (how do they get wifi in the swamp anyway?). That's why a tweet from "@AmericanGriper" (that's me! Follow back y'all!) was included right next to a tweet from esteemed biologist Richard Dawkins in a story about the NC murders on the website Click this link to see the story, scroll to the bottom to see the tweets.

Now, I agree that my opinion on any given topic is just as important as Richard Dawkins', but I don't think most people would. In fact, when I saw the article and came across my own tweet, I was really fucking confused. Proud. But confused. I'm not saying it's completely unnecessary to hear from Average Joe about news events, but when everyone is given an equal platform to speak on, who do we listen to? If the media is simply going to use tweets for research, at the very least, they should look into who is tweeting. Otherwise you end up in really embarrassing situations.

Such as...

When Kanye West released the first of several songs with the last surviving Beatle (shhh Ringo, go back to the basement) Twitter was set ablaze with posts asking who this guy was and why Kanye would work with such an unknown artist. One commenter even posted: "Kanye has a great ear for talent. This Paul McCartney guy gonna be huge."

Idiots! How can you live on this planet and not know who Paul McCartney is?

Well, turns out the real idiots are the media outlets who reported on this. Apparently they had never been on Twitter and were unfamiliar with the concept of "sarcasm" or "humor". The guy who made the above post is Desus Nice, an absolutely hilarious Tweeter with his own podcast and show. He's know for his sarcastic wit and if you looked at any other tweet on his page you would recognize that instantly. Apparently that is too much to ask of the media. They saw one tweet, decided that the narrative of "stupid millennials don't even know music icons" was click-bait worthy and ran with it. All the old people can laugh at the stupid millennials and all the millennials who know Paul McCartney can laugh at their inferior peers. The perfect story!

 Giving Desus another golden opportunity to make fun of white people...dammit media! 
You make it really hard to be a white guy! Waaah!

This happens a lot. Like, a friggin LOT. "The scoop" has always been important to media outlets, but with the speed of the internet and social media (and social interest) it is even more vital for news organizations to be first to report, even if they are wrong. Combine that with perpetual laziness, and you end up with the shitty reporting we have now. The worst part about this is that whoever gets the "scoop" on the story sets the tone, and in fact, provides all other media outlets with the particulars of the case. Take the Freddie Gray/Baltimore story for example. When the Washington Post published a story titled "Prisoner in van thought [Freddie] Gray was ‘trying to injure himself’" every other outlet rushed to publish the story, using only Washington Post as the source. The absolute least amount of effort is put into covering a story. Simply find the stories already written and rewrite. Oh, and if you happen to be wrong, which they were in this case, don't worry about it! Simply update the story with slightly different wording and make sure not to promote the corrections!

We often see this rush to get a scoop mixed with ultimate laziness in stories of people being outraged at an incident/person/event/any number of things that outrage people these days. There is plenty to be outraged about (police brutality, lgbt equality, pollution, endangered species, etc.) but some people choose the most random, inconsequential things to obsess about and they make sure their feelings are heard. Over and over and over again. So when you hear a news story about people being OUTRAGED that so and so did this, try to get a sense of how many people are actually feeling this way. Ten people raging about the fact that there are not enough straight white men on national television is meaningless. In the grand scheme of things, a thousand people outraged about something, let's say a sports team's new uniforms or whatever, probably doesn't mean anything, unless that team has only a thousand fans. The Mets would probably be in trouble but that's about it. 
I don't care about baseball anymore but I will absolutely take any opportunity to bash the Mets.

The Westboro Baptist Church is a good example. They seemingly show up at every military funeral and are on the news almost any time the topic of gay marriage or gay rights is discussed. You would think the "Church" has a million members with the amount of publicity their "cause" receives.

They have 40 members. Most from the same sick family. Yet we all know who they are and what they stand for. They are the perfect villains. Even ordinary homophobic people think Westboro crosses the line. So why do we hear about them all the time? Media outlets understand that if you include their name in a story, you're guaranteed to get some hate clicks: people literally reading the story to become enraged at the group and feel better about themselves because no matter what they've done in their lives, nothing is worse than what these assholes do every day.

So here's how it works: a small group of people (e.g. Westboro) get OUTRAGED at something. Media reports on it, never mentioning the size of the outrage. People (red-blooded Americans like you and I) get outraged about those other people being outraged. Media reports on the backlash outrage. Outsiders who don't care much about the topic are forced to pick a side because neutrality is for cowards. Stand up too must be outraged!

The media wants your outrage. It draws ratings. When you're angry, you are more likely to comment on the article, which means you have clicked on their page and given them your precious view. When you comment, especially an angry, impassioned comment, you are likely to check back to see if anyone responded to you, thereby driving their number of views up even more. All they care about is whether you clicked on their website. They don't care about accuracy, ethics, accountability, nothing. They don't even care if you read the whole thing. They only care about clicks.

All of this gives us a false sense of the magnitude of any outrage; even worse, when topics arise that do deserve outrage, people don't take those things seriously, lumping them in with the "false outrage" group. So now everyone is simultaneously outraged by nothing and everything.

Thanks media!

And if you think this is all bullshit and you're in the comment section typing in all caps "HOW IS THIS NEWS?" hoping that the Editor in Chief will read your comment and reassess his purpose in life, causing him to only publish stories worthy of your highly esteemed readership, you have fallen directly in their trap. You clicked on the article to comment. They won.

And we--all of us--lose.

But hey, at least I got on the news! That's cool right?!

I Love You All...Class Dismissed. 

No comments: