I guess about a year ago, a friend of mine shared an image of a huge crowd of people marching past Big Ben in London — it was a share of somebody else’s post, which claimed that the march was happening that very minute, was anti-austerity, and the media weren’t reporting on it.
Because I doubt the truth of almost everything, I did an image search on Google and found that photo was two or three years old. And that the media had reported on it. Luckily, the friend is the kind of person who is more interested in sticking to facts than to a particular political narrative, so I showed him the results of the image search and he took down the share.
Of course, this kind of thing happens all the time, but I am always curious about the motives of the original person who shared that photo (not my friend, nor even the person whose name was on the share, but the very first person in that chain) who in this case must have known they were making something up.
Anyway, on the opposite end of the spectrum, somebody who has a much greater duty of care to the truth is busily claiming that the media isn’t reporting the things that would prove him right, and it made me think of the reasons that — after investigating a lot of these types of claims — the media didn’t report your favourite story.
1. It’s breaking news
Either it is unclear what is happening and they’re not reporting rumours, or they genuinely slipped up and missed it. Twitter is really good at these breaking news situations, and unfortunately the mainstream media seems to spend far too much time trying to compete with Twitter these days — I like to have minute by minute updates from Twitter, and then have the media do what they do best and gather the story into a coherent narrative with facts verified and quotes sourced.
2. They are reporting it
But we’re not sharing it or talking about it. Ironically, about 50% of the time, an article is shared from the media asking why they aren’t reporting it — a BBC news article reporting the story, with user commentary accusing the media of not reporting it.
3. They reported it when it happened
See above. But also, this is usually a case of somebody sharing it by mistake, thinking it is current.
These instances, of reported but undershared and reported, old and unshared news, I actually appreciate a lot, because I have usually missed them.
4. They are reporting it — with a different narrative
And this is the genuine criticism that we should take seriously. When black people wading through flooded New Orleans with food were looters and white people doing exactly the same ‘had found food’. When black protesters riot and white people celebrate exuberantly. Or even when the focus of an Occupy story is on the gadgets owned by the protesters.
Here in Ireland we have codes in the media, to let us know whether we should see people as victims or deserving their fate, letting us know if we should care: mentions of the neighbourhoods they are from, whether they are part of the Traveller community, whether they are ‘known to Gardai’. A case last year of a man who murdered his wife and three sons before killing himself drew widespread criticism when the reporting effectively erased his wife, focussing on his motives for killing his children.
Again, this is the one we should look out for, because it is everywhere, and it is laziness.
5. It isn’t true
Is this the most common? It feels that way to me, but I have a lot of biases around this. “Evidence” that vaccinations are harmful, successful studies about homeopathy, child sex allegations against celebrity X or politician Y, all that stuff from US elections (every US election since I first came online in the 90s, but the latest presidential one most of all) that exhaust us, never mind the poor people at Snopes. Terrorist attacks in Sweden on Friday. UFO abductions in Slovenia. Satanic symbols used in the marketing of energy drinks. Actual zombies in South Sudan. What causes cancer. How eating green beans cures cancer. The health benefits of smoking.
I’ve skipped some. Injunctions, countries with essentially no independent mainstream media, influence of advertisers → they want to report but are prevented. But anyway, you get the idea.
I’m not big into conspiracy theories, and I’m very aware of confirmation bias — which is one reason I looked into so many of the things that friends shared back. Now that the accusation of not reporting has swung to the other side, though, I am still curious about what the motivation was in the case I first mentioned, and others like it. But it now seems more like a 4chan prank that had an additional motive, instead of a well-meaning lefty who wanted to drum up support and passion for another anti-austerity drive. The alt-right are good at taking (careless) rhetoric from the left and using it to suit them, is this another case?