The Actual Stories Behind 5 Huge Social Media Outrages
Social media makes getting mad so convenient. You're fed a constant stream of outrageous anecdotes that can be easily shared without first considering whether this exposure does any good, much less whether the story is even true. And sometimes, if you stop to take a closer look at Today's Big Angry Mob, you'll find the answer to both questions is an emphatic "Not so much." For example ...
No, Instagram Influencers Didn't Flock To Chernobyl
Professional "influencers" are now greeted with the kind of loathing previously reserved for jobs like "pony strangler" or "lawyer." So a recent story about Instagrammers taking inappropriate pics inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone sparked a predictable amount of outrage. We're talking about the site of the worst nuclear accident in history, not to mention the graveyard of several brave workers. We can't let that become yet another backdrop for soft-lit selfies intended to promote trendy berries or start a feud with Chrissy Teigen.
But while the story was outrageous, it wasn't really true. The whole thing was started by a random Twitter user with a couple thousand followers, who posted a since-deleted compilation of a few shots they claimed influencers had marked as taken in Pripyat -- the ghost town located around Chernobyl. The most shocking photo, of a woman dropping a protective suit to reveal undergarments woefully insufficient to prevent radiation poisoning, was in fact taken 2,000 miles away. Another had a caption indicating it was taken during Men's Fashion Week in London.
Also, most of the people in the photos weren't influencers -- not even aspiring ones. One of the women pictured in the original tweet was a Ukrainian local with just 204 followers who said she had visited Chernobyl to pay her respects. It seems unlikely that she hoped her long post about history would get her invited to collab with James Charles. Another of the original photos was taken way back in 2010, when Instagram was still competing for startup capital with an app that told you which $#*! My Dad Says character was hottest.
Still, sites needed to gobble up those outrage clicks before everyone got bored, so this got breathless coverage in outlets like Vanity Fair, BuzzFeed, The Independent, and so on. Anyway, that's the world we have now. Love it or go live in a cave. (Please invite us to your cave.)
No, The Tax Bill Didn't Screw You Out Of A Refund
When tax refunds came in this year, many Americans were surprised to see them smaller than usual. Blame went to the recent tax bill, which was seen as a GOP scam to give their cronies all our money. Trump opponents in general shared this idea, but so did many Trump supporters who were bitter over their own underwhelming refunds. Sometimes schadenfreude comes at a premium.
But while there are, good god, so many things to be blamed on the Trump administration, this isn't one of them. Getting a lower refund doesn't mean you got charged more in taxes. Your refund size doesn't necessarily have anything to do with how big your tax bill is. It's a return of the amount you overpaid over the course of the past year. To figure out if you're being robbed, you have to look at how much taxes were withheld from last year's paychecks. Is it lower? Naturally, all other things being equal, your refund will be lower.
For most taxpayers, that's exactly what happened. There was no "middle-class tax hike" -- there was an across-the-board tax cut. Some vulnerable people ended up paying a lot more because of the way new deductions work, which is terrible, but most taxpayers paid less. That's not necessarily a good thing, but that all depends on your opinions about fiscal policy, which of course should never be spoken of in interesting company.
No, NASA Isn't Refusing To Make Spacesuits For Women
This past March, astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch had made plans to take a little spacewalk together, which would have been the first all-female spacewalk in history. Sadly, it turned out there weren't enough female suits for them to use, so McClain had to stay cooped up while some random dude went out in her place. Truly, said the peanut gallery, this spacesuit shortage was emblematic of the sexism that pervades the world -- nay, the Solar System!
We include this only because it's exactly as accurate as the myriad "serious" hot takes on the topic.
But here's the thing: No one makes women's spacesuits. They don't make men's, either. Suits are modular, and parts have sizes. In fact, McClain had previously worn two sizes of torsos, medium and large. In her recent spacewalk, she'd worn medium and found it to be the most comfortable, so when another astronaut who wore medium came aboard and there was only one medium torso available, McClain made the recommendation that she be swapped out for a large-wearing (male) astronaut rather than go out wearing the large suit herself. No one forced her.
As she clarified in an interview broadcast live from the ISS, she decided the spacewalk had a better chance of success if someone else went out in that large suit. NASA even had an additional medium torso on board (they stock just as many sizes below average as above), but prepping it would have taken additional time, so they would have had to either switch one astronaut or reschedule. Ironically, later in the year, the first all-female spacewalk did end up happening, but it attracted considerably less attention than the first all-female spacewalk not happening.
No, Joe Russo Didn't Take Personal Revenge On Tony Stark
When fans found out that Avengers: Endgame director Joe Russo had filmed an appearance on The Tonight Show in July 2019, they were going to find a reason to be mad at him, but no one expected it to be a good one. Apparently, Russo admitted that not only had he singlehandedly been the one behind killing off Tony Stark, but it was because he had a personal grudge against the character going all the way back to the first Avengers film.
But late night shows are typically filmed the same day they're aired. Would there even be time to propagate such a leak? No, there wouldn't. It's a totally made-up quote. Russo had never even been on The Tonight Show. Additionally, there was no Endgame planned when Russo saw The Avengers in 2012, and he wasn't attached to Marvel in any way at that time, so he had no reason to think he'd one day be Tony Stark's God. Not that he doesn't seem to be having plenty of fun with the position.
No, Trump Rallies Didn't Cause Hate Crimes To Triple
It's not exactly a leap to suggest that a public figure who campaigns primarily on racism and xenophobia might somehow encourage racism and xenophobia, so we sent some people to study it. We didn't check their credentials too closely, but they let us have some of their beer, so they seemed cool. They came back with a shocking statistic: During the 2016 election, counties which hosted Trump rallies saw a 226% rise in hate crimes, and oh man, that is not cool. Bernie Sanders shared the statistic in convenient meme form:
So did Ilhan Omar:
However, if you read the paper everyone's talking about, you'll see it didn't actually track hate crimes in 2016. Instead it tallied "hate incidents," as recorded by the Anti-Defamation League here. That seems like splitting hairs, but the incidents in question were mostly the distribution of fliers and other propaganda. Hate? Yes. Crime? No.
OK, so the paper largely concerns unsavory literature rather than crimes, but if that was tripling after Trump rallies, that's worth noting, right? Not really. First off, nothing tripled -- instead, the (small) hate rise in rally counties was three times the hate rise in non-rally counties. And then a couple of Harvard guys found that the same thing happened when Clinton came to town. It seems fairly likely that something else was causing such spikes, and when the researchers corrected for population size in areas where political rallies were held and areas where they weren't, the difference disappeared. Good god, the racism ... it was coming from inside the house the whole time!
For more, check out Why Outrage Culture Is Ruining The Internet:
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