5 things the media does to manufacture outrage.

People are so sensitive these days! People are just offended by every little thing! Millennials, amirite?!

Is the world more easily “outraged” than it used to be? I don’t think so, but then again, there’s no real way to tell.

Representation of people outraged about “outrage culture.”

I think maybe the media is just getting better at making us all feel like the world is little more than a collection of 7 billion whining people-organism-things.

The media’s always manipulated the public, and while sometimes that’s used for large things (see: presidential campaigns), more often manipulation is just a way to find content from one day to the next (between the large things).

Here’s a story about something that happened to me, and the 5 steps involved in going from innocuous comment to an “outrage narrative” providing us all with content for days to come.

1. There is what will be known moving forward as a “Thing that Happened.”

And oh man, it’s usually something extraordinarily stupid.

Earlier this year, Kayla and I were hanging out at the Sephora near the North & Clyborn red line station. As we were looking around, I was skimming through nail polish, lipstick, and eyeliner, checking out the names (Don’t make fun of me! This stuff actually really interests me! I mean, how many ways can you say “This is red” or “That’s purple?” Right?). Anyway…

I took a few pictures of names I thought were funny, weird, or just, well… notable. My phone has somewhere around 2,000 pictures on it at this very moment, and most of them are just stupid things I’ve seen around town.

So anyway, I decided to tweet one of those pictures along with the caption: “Went shopping for some makeup. How on earth is this a lipstick color?” about Kat Von D’s “Underage Red.”

There were no exclamation marks, no angry emojis, no Change.org petition to boycott the store until they removed it from shelves. Nothing. My reaction and sentiment was pretty much this:

As of this writing, the tweet was only retweeted 88 times, and seen by just over 25,000 people. In the grand scheme of things, this is tiiiiiiny.

Here, I mean, check that out compared to one of my more popular tweets (which was just a joke about an ad campaign).

Responses were few and mostly just kind of poking fun at the absurdity of that name and the connotations it can have. Nothing big.

So, what can we conclude? That no one really cared all that much about the lipstick tweet — certainly not me.

2. The media mines Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and whatnot for story ideas, eventually find “Thing that Happened.”

Here’s where it gets fun, especially when you consider that this just started with a few people I know on Twitter who honestly don’t care what someone names their lipstick.

One outlet picks it up (in this case, it was Business Insider)

By the time it’s picked up by another outlet (in this case, Fortune), the classification has been upped from “disgusted” to “outraged.”

By the time it made it to the next outlet (TIME), it had taken listicle form.

(And you get the idea, right? It just kept spreading from one site to the next… I’ll spare you links to all of them, but believe me, there’s a bunch.)

3. The narrative told by the media in step 2 is considered reality.

With each of these new articles, a new stream of people came flying into my mentions to tell me how I was overreacting. They were so outraged about my (nonexistent) outrage. They were angry.

Again, to something that didn’t “outrage” me, but just sort of… this.

Emails, tweets, Facebook messages, blog posts about “outrage culture,” etc. were thrown my way. These people were very angry about how supposedly angry I was (which I wasn’t).

4. Coverage of Thing that Happened causes it to trend on social media, inviting response pieces and additional coverage.

In this case, Kat Von D responded to the “controversy” on her Facebook page, vowing not to apologize (for something no one actually wanted an apology for).

“These wild, and horrific accusations proclaiming that any aspect of my makeup line would ever promote the degradation of women, statutory rape, sexual behavior, human trafficking, underage drinking, or even idealization of fleeting youth, goes against everything I stand for. So, please excuse me if I find those articles and comments appalling and inaccurate.
“If you read the word ‘underage’ and you automatically jump to a disgusting conclusion, I ask you to perhaps question your own mind and thoughts. Consider the damage such negativity can actually cause, verses actually help.
“So, NO. I refuse to sacrifice my integrity and creative freedom. NO. I will not be pulling ‘Underage Red’ from my collection. And NO. This is not an apology.”

And, then, of course, media outlets covered her response because now it was actual (sort of) news.

And once again, my feelings were just…

5. The same media that creates the controversy criticizes people for being so perpetually “outraged.”

OMG people are always so angry!

It’s all kind of like this.

No, snake, don’t. Don’t eat yourself. Snake, no!

Next time you get ready to rant about how P.C. culture is ruining the world, about how college students are coddled, or whatever the controversy of the week happens to be…

For instance:

Ask yourself a few quick questions.

  1. Is this something people are genuinely angry about? Don’t take the headline’s word for it. In many cases, no one is calling for a boycott, asking for an apology, etc. Look at the source material, and see what people are actually saying (and how it began).
  2. Is this something someone could reasonably not like? As it’s hard to discern “outrage” from disapproval from apathy in 140 characters, understand when someone says “That’s disgusting,” “I don’t like that,” or “I’m never going there again,” it’s not necessarily that they’re “outraged.” If I go to a restaurant and the food sucks, I might say, “That wasn’t good. I’m never going there again.” That’s not me calling for a boycott. That’s not me being outraged. That’s just an opinion, and when you lose your shit over it in response, you’re the one who looks like you don’t have it together.
  3. Is there actually a massive crowd calling for action? I can do a Twitter search and find 4 or 5 people saying just about anything. Seriously, go ahead. Check it out. Want to see a bunch of people saying “Empire Strikes Back” was the worst Star Wars movie? Do this search. Want to see a crowd saying they hate grilled cheese? Do this search. Often, the “outraged” situations are little more than some cherry picked tweets or a petition a few dozen people signed. Which brings me to my final question…
  4. What are you adding to the conversation by throwing a fit? I ask that because, well, look at the examples of people responding to my not-so-popular-yet-controversy-inspiring tweet. Who seems angriest there? Just chill out because you’re probably way overanalyzing it.

Are there people upset about stupid nonsense? Absolutely. If it becomes “a thing,” however, it’s because the media made it “a thing.”

For example, the entire “War on Christmas” meme, which exists almost exclusively because Fox News keeps telling us it exists.

So is the world any more “outraged” than it’s always been? Nah. We’re just getting toyed with.

Pretty outrageous, right?