6 News Stories Everybody Needs To Stop Sharing On Facebook
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 ...
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.
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 ...
"Craze," in this case, meaning "exactly 12 tweets" (until the "warning" turned them into thousands).
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.
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:
He should start a support group with Jerry Seinfeld.
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.
Random People's Embarrassing Small-Town Crimes Aren't News
Pretty much every respectable news organization can agree that cyberbullying sucks a big veiny D. Jezebel, for example, has published numerous articles about the dangers of shaming people over the Internet. As a writer for Cracked, I personally try to avoid mocking random civilian jerkfaces for that very reason. Which is why I'm not going to provide a link to this mean-spirited horsepiss of an article:
Filed to: NOT BULLYING IF WE DO IT
Goddamn it, Jezebel. In case you're wondering, the choice to blur the tearful mugshot was mine, and not the site that apparently thought it was fun to make a young girl's stupid shoplifting crime a national chuckle farm for easy clicks. Because it's not like anyone else did stupid shit when they were 18.
We've all been there, amiright?
I blurred that one, too. Hey, question: Is any of this news? Because it sure feels like nothing but making fun of heretofore anonymous people with problems in order to swell traffic. At some rung in the ladder to Hell, someone on the Internet realized that instead of making up fake scandals about celebrities, you could simply scroll through The Smoking Gun and local news sites until you found a real scandal by some soon-to-no-longer-be-random rando. And like that, with a little mocking pizazz, you could ruin a complete stranger's life from the comfort of your home office, blog newsroom, or Daily Mail lie dungeon.
We're sure Daily Mail writers know nothing about doing their job while drunk.
That there came from Daily Mail finding a random guy crashing a Christmas sleigh, fabricating the part about him being drunk, and creating a viral sensation that swept the web. All at the low, low cost of completely ruining the driver's life back in his hometown. Because thanks to the Internet, what used to be a page six article in your local paper is headlining Facebook. And if you think you're somehow immune, consider this:
Like you, I was fascinated with the Rachel Dolezal story ... up until I realized that the race-swapping woman who barely committed a crime or broke any rules quite clearly came from an insane family drama which had nothing to do with me. In other words, these people are fucking loons, and we gave them their own Today Show special.
Why? What the fuck is wrong with us? Since when did a Jay Leno Headline sketch become a national conversation?
Teen-Shaming Parents Aren't News
By design, adolescence is a time of emotional stupidity and painful self-awareness, something the rest of society finds annoying as shit -- second only to viral fame-humping parents who think shaming their kids on camera will somehow teach them a lesson. But if I had to feverishly stone one group over the other, I'd choose option three: the people willing to report it whenever some asshole disguises child abuse as adult retribution. Like this:
"Publicly" as in "through The Washington Post," because once again I blurred the kid's face.
Fuck that guy. Not because his technique didn't work to improve the kid's behavior, but rather because it did, making his proof of concept one more cobblestone on the shame-wagon trail. Here's another one the media ticker-taped to death:
Seriously, guys, I can put up a "blurring things" tutorial if you need it.
Way to set an example, "no-nonsense dad"! What a brave, brave ...
What kind of maniac drinks Bud Light?
... neo-Nazi. He's a neo-Nazi.
See, whether you agree or condemn these shaming tactics, these are still random strangers' lives we're butting into. We don't know shit about these people. Case in point:
Jesus fucking Christ. It takes two seconds in Photoshop.
Remember that one? The above headlines were enough for the rallying public to call for the father's arrest for brutally shaming his daughter. The only snag being that this story is 100 percent false, as the police would later determine that her dad never even posted the shaming video to begin with (it was her friends, after she died) ... and that it had nothing to do with her motivations anyway.
Turns out this all started when a local blogger dared to ask the hard questions about why the police weren't looking into a random YouTube video, and concluded that it must have caused her suicide without any evidence to back it up. The rest of the media took the idiot ball and ran with it before the police had a chance to do their jobs and actually determine the cause. And so there we all were, yelling at a grieving man for something he didn't do. And of course the blogger refuses to apologize for his actions, claiming that he never misled anyone with this innocent little headline:
The words "may have": the scummy reporter's best friends.
Because "citizen journalism" means never having to say you're a wrong dickhead.
One-Sided Accounts Against Organizations Aren't News
If you haven't already noticed, most of my manly unsheathed rage has to do with the media boiling someone's personal problems into a headline or meme and then hucking that bullshit into the viral gorge. And the biggest reason for this is that we'll never get the full story when we're coming at it with an already established villain and/or hero. For example: any time a helpless student or school employee gets in trouble for something innocent.
What's next? A music teacher fired for being TOO cool?
That kid had a history of physical harassment, but since it's not something the school was legally allowed to disclose, we only get the angry parents' totally objective side. Same with the lunch lady: the school says they can't legally disclose the reason she was fired, which happens a lot in educational establishments. Sometimes, we don't have the full story because (as difficult as it may be for our outrage-starved brains to comprehend) we're not fucking supposed to.
If you're wondering why I'm focusing on such small potatoes, it's because my brain is physically unable to withstand the full-scale version of this dirty fuckingness for long periods of time ...
It took me 50 10-second intervals to Photoshop this without hemorrhaging out.
That there is the now-infamous Gawker article publicly outing the CFO of a major company for being gay after a (conspiracy theory lunatic) prostitute blackmailed him for not helping with a landlord dispute. That means instead of the headline "Crazy Asshole Blackmails Man," they opted to act as an accomplice to the extortion of a man whose sexuality in no way affects anyone's life but the one they just ruined. Wrap your fucking skull passenger around that slice of journalistic nihilism the next time you consider clicking on another Gawker article. Seriously, as someone who researches the news on a daily basis, I'm telling you to stop reading Gawker right now. They're an insufferable garbage business that doesn't care about the news.
In fact, here's a new logo for you.
Don't look up the article I'm referring to.
You're totally Googling it right now, aren't you? Fuck.
That's better ... I guess.
Gawker eventually took down the article, much to the consternation of their staff, who responded with the least sympathetic protest ever mounted in the name of editorial integrity. But -- even after wide swathes of civilization decided they were assholes -- Gawker sure as shit raked in those schadenfreude clicks, thanks to an interminable series of followup articles (both in-house and by other outlets) detailing exactly how their website was falling into the ocean.
And that's the problem. In the end, the dirty little lie we're all telling ourselves is that the reactionary news we share on social media is anything besides self-indulgent. And the more we define what's "newsworthy" based off our dumbshit, primordial, saber-toothed-tiger-fearing emotional reactions instead of our reasoning skills, the more the news will desperately try to appeal to that impulsive side of us that can't help but to hit the "share" button. All I'm asking is that you think for a second before doing so.
Except for this. Please share this immediately and without question.
Dave has been researching the news for over two goddamn years. Send him condolences on Twitter.
Also check out 6 BS Medical Stories Your Friends Shared On Facebook and The 5 Weirdest Ways the Modern World Changed Human Behavior.