We’ve all been there. We’re “surfing the web” looking for things to read, and it hits us. We see a story link, a tweet, or perhaps something that pops up on Facebook that makes us click. It’s not because the topic is of any particular relevance to us, it’s because the story lets us vilify or make fun of someone or something. We see the headline, and we ask ourselves, “really? REALLY?? Is that person or that organization REALLY doing X?”
But then something happens. We start to read the story. We start to ask questions and perhaps even try to empathize with the “villain” in the story. Sometimes we even start to judge the credibility of the author. We ask why certain glaring elements of a story seem to be missing, or at least get acknowledged. Sometimes we begin to realize that the majority of the story is actually quite irrelevant to the sensational headline that comes with it.
The thing is, the second part of this scenario often doesn’t happen. What does happen, is a headline frequently takes on a life of its own. Through lack of context and powered by an internet that makes resharing stupidly easy, “news” and opinions representing the masses of the collective web quickly form. And what happens is a picture easily gets painted that, although somewhat cathartic for us all, isn’t a true representation of “reality.”
There’s no particular story that I’m channelling here. It’s just something I’ve observed to be a recurring theme in the last few days.
Perhaps as someone who has worked in the world of PR I’m a bit more sensitive to this. So much of my job focused on protecting the identity of brands from misinformation online and it irked me to see people blindly sharing mischaracterized headlines or conveying opinions that lack fairness. I’m not talking about companies that I served, I’m talking about everything out there. People, technology, brands, you name it. Sometimes it feels like we’re all being tricked into clicking on links and paying the advertising monster through a network of emotionally driven news headlines.
I know I’m just as guilty of feeding the beast. One way or another I’m sure that on a weekly, if not a daily basis I’m right there with you reposting one of those infamous Gawker or HuffPo articles that just flares up my section of the Internet. Sometimes, I’ll admit, I don’t read the article properly. I skim, I look for quotes, I insert snarky commentary, and I tweet… I continue the cycle of pushing along information without proper context.
I’ll try to be better about this, you should too.