The Internet is like the Ark of the Covenant: Nazis and guys wearing fedoras love it, and it'll melt your face if you stare directly at it. Unfortunately, as one of the researchers for Cracked.com, it is my job to peer straight into the flaming abyss of the world's #1 source for written news, unblinking and sorrowful.
Don't get me wrong; newspapers are dead, and we should be happy about that. The problem is that a third of U.S. adults get their news from Facebook's "Share" button, making the most important aspect of a world event its catchiness against the scrolling speed of the average procrastinator. In short, it's up to us to decide what is and isn't news ... and as someone who has to make that determination on a daily basis, I thought it would be nice of me to give a few pointers.
You're all so very welcome. Now for the love of God ...
#6. Hate Clicks And Shock Opinion Articles Aren't News
Back in the mid '90s, The Phil Donahue Show had Marilyn Manson as a guest on an episode devoted to the shocking perils of moshing. It was one of the worst moments of talk show history, because to the disappointment of the frosty-haired incendiary, the episode turned out to be a fairly uneventful discussion between a concerned audience and thoughtful guests. Daytime television, as masterfully perfected by Donahue's successor, Jerry Springer, works best when resembling a full-contact version of Nineteen Eighty-Four's Two Minutes Hate.
Today, you have to go to German porn sites for this kind of crowd action.
The most underrated benefit of these talk shows is that they allowed us to mentally separate real news from the rabble-rousing of some sexist asswad or neo-Nazi train wreck. Social media, however, is a mesh of both. Legitimate news events mingle with hate click lures like this dickheaditorial:
The mysteries of the New Jersey accent are simply beyond those with vaginas.
Written by a random film critic, this turd assessment amassed thousands of angry shares and countering blog posts, despite the majority of the adult population needing no explanation to why the article can suck a shit. In other words, the Internet has turned everyone into a daytime talk show audience, furiously spinning our wheels in anger over whatever douche of the week fills the mic with their inane opinion. Websites like the NY Post host this low-hanging ad revenue under the half-cocked excuse of "practicing free speech." A method now mastered by the black belt in pretending to care about the 1st Amendment: fucking Thought Catalog.
devilsadvocate.com, justsayin.com, and ohyeahwewentthere.com were all taken.
Back in the day, Thought Catalog articles would have been stellar Springer brawls. The kind where everyone would chant Steve Wilkos' name while some Klansmen got stool-pegged in the junk. These are the money-gobbling hate trains kids enjoyed during sick days off from school -- the only problems being that they're now indistinguishable from everything else out there, and bafflingly elicit rebuttals from the same source.
"Can You Believe What That Trash Website Published?"
By That Trash Website
Holy balls. By pretending to value "all sides" of a story, Thought Catalog has effectively created the first perpetual outrage machine. But the same way no one goes around debunking National Enquirer stories, some lunatic's racist rant about Asians doesn't need a reasoned response any more than a rabies-soaked possum needs to be invited to a tea party.
#5. Teens Doing Stupid Things Aren't News (Or "Crazes," Or "Games," Or "Challenges")
As we've mentioned a ton on Cracked, one tried-and-true media method for siphoning the fear of the aged is to re-gift isolated incidents involving young people as massive "crazes" sweeping the planet like a monkey virus. For example, take a teen overdose, add the hashtag #ParacetamolChallenge, and ...
BAM! Sweet golden bullshit! It doesn't matter that this "Paracetamol Challenge" boils down to one overdose of an unnamed, possibly fictional schoolboy in Ireland, because no one is going to actually check (except that damn Snopes). Now behold the completely nonexistent "Game of 72" -- a case of The Daily Mail rebranding a single runaway teen story to make it more share-worthy.
"Sure hope no copycats try this and we get a boost in ad revenue!"
Let's do another one! Hey parents! Didja hear about this terrifying teenage hashtag craze called ...
... "attempted suicide"? Damn that newfangled social media!
Teenagers have been doing wack shit since time was invented. But thanks to the Internet, never before have pubescent jackasses been given such a vast platform for lighting their balls on fire and snorting Benadryl on camera. And instead of brushing it off as malarkey, the media used this as yet another well for easy outrage clicks. Even corporations are jumping on board -- like in the case of the recent film The Gallows, which used a fake demon summoning craze to piggyback their film marketing. Because these stories have never been about helping teenagers, but rather selling (and thus amplifying) their anguish like Roman pimps.
#4. Personal Anecdotes Turned Into Broad Social Issues Aren't News
At some point, every writer has been screwed by a business, landlord, or random jerk, and realized their only recourse was to whine about it on the Internet. In theory, this is great for a personal blog or social media post. But to reach a maximum audience, it seems that some are infusing larger social issues with their own personal woes, like journalism mad scientists. For example, there's no good reason this should have gotten 500,000 views:
You're Not Even My Real Dad, Jeb.
According to this Jezebel article, one of their editors was refused a neck tattoo because the artist was sexist and thought she couldn't handle it ... as opposed to the easily Googlable fact that inking around someone's primary arteries is an extremely common request for tattoo artists to refuse. But instead of reasoning that out, the writer decided to go for the scorched earth approach and end on a slideshow mocking the artist's work on completely uninvolved strangers:
Yay, citizen journalism!
The artist in question later explained all of this for another site, which didn't stop Jezebel from adding zero corrections to the still-published complaint piece. After all, it's really just one person's word against the other -- raising the question as to what any part of this story accomplishes, besides satisfying the part of our brain that likes killing things with rocks. Same goes for this garbage:
That's from Vox, a cutting-edge news site best known for being pathologically incorrect about everything. They gave a voice to some college professor proclaiming fear of liberal students because of a single anonymous and unspecified complaint he got in 2009. That's seriously the basis for this vague 3,000-word rant about how he's scared to bring up abortion and junk, based on random anecdotes and a hardcore persecution paranoia.
Then it was shared 270,000 goddamn times. Not because it contained any hard data about students in America, but rather because it justified an already believed narrative about overly PC college students. Meanwhile, the counter article got only 19,000 shares. Because no one likes reading that there isn't a problem with kids today.