The Internet Endorses Sensationalism


In an Internet age, clicks are everything. The more clicks your site gets, the more likely your site will survive among a flurry of thousands of others. Such is the state of things for online publications in 2015–but how does this affect our content?

Lately, the editors at The Minaret have noticed an influx of sensationalism on the Internet. In these instances, publications and individuals have seen and understood only a small portion of a developing story and blown it way out of proportion for one reason or another. Tweets and headlines become cut-throat and conclusions are jumped to.

Sometimes this misreporting of a situation can arise from the publication’s effort to be the first to report what they may think will be an important story. Other times, this exaggerating or conclusion jumping can come from a less honest place–perhaps a desire to generate more traffic to their website, thereby generating more revenue. Occasionally, these hastily reported stories are co-opted for more selfish purposes, to quickly and disingenuously frame a situation in a way which may justify a certain line of thinking.

This phenomenon seems to be especially true as the issues involved in the story become more and more important. Case in point–an issue recently arose in the alternative music world involving a black metal band called Deafheaven. Somebody went through the Twitter account of Deafheaven’s guitarist Kerry McCoy and found that he was very flippant with certain hateful words in Tweets posted in 2012.

This news blew up rather quickly, with a petition called “Stop the promotion of hate-speech in the music community” springing up soon after the news broke. The petition specifically called for the removal of Deafheaven from the annual Pitchfork Music Festival.

While hate speech is something to be combatted and surely McCoy was in the wrong for his use of these words, this development was not used as a productive means of fighting against hate speech. Instead, the news was used as a sort of “gotcha” moment against another band called Speedy Ortiz, who has recently taken active and important steps in making their own shows safe. The Twitter account which broke the news was using Deafheaven’s affiliation with Speedy Ortiz to devalue the latter’s very real attempts to make the community less hateful.

Meanwhile, this incident was employed by fans on other music-centric platforms in a similar fashion. Users who normally actively oppose other more concrete and troubling incidents in the music world (eg., a rapist being signed to a prominent underground label, a pedophile given a platform on a prominent music festival’s stage) are undermined by users looking to have their own “gotcha” moment–a band they like has used hate speech and so all of their efforts are moot. All of this happens before anyone reaches out to the band or Pitchfork Fest. A chance was never given for the Tweets to be confirmed as authentic, for an apology to be issued, for the real importance of calling Deafheaven and McCoy out to come to light.

This situation is a microcosm of the state of the news in a full-blown Internet age. Immediate sensationalism is often the result of a piece of news being co-opted for somebody’s purpose–and, as shown in the example of Deafheaven, that purpose could easily regressive and harmful, even sinister.
The only real antidote to keep you from falling into this trap is an active consumption of your news. That is, you should never just read a story and close the book on your perception of it immediately. In order to truly understand the story, you need to understand where it’s coming from–who is reporting? Why? Why now? And, taking it one step further, follow up on it–stay conscious of developments and changes that could completely reframe your understanding. Do your best not to fall victim to sensationalism.

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