|A week later, what haunts me from the pilot is the line,|
"People choose the facts they want now."
Last week a different sort of news story took over the internet. On Twitter, a few apparent Conservatives claimed that if Obama defeats Romney in the upcoming presidential election, they will move to Canada. The users were not politicians, office-holders, or actually individuals of any note. They were merely people who said dumb things online. Their tweets were copied and pasted into mega-posts and ran as feature stories on sites I won’t name because I don’t want to send them further traffic.
This wasn’t the first time that the random opinions of people you never cared about before and will never care about again trended in social media. I first noticed it in March after the Hunger Games premiere, when a few bigots complained on Twitter that characters had been cast as black. That they were actually black in the novels didn’t matter to them. That there were very few people tweeting this and that none of the individuals had any significance didn’t matter to editors, who ran stories mocking their ignorance and pretended that the three or four quotes they’d found represented a large block of people.
After the “Moving to Canada” nonsense, I was disturbed at the rise of a new form of non-news: the story about someone of no significance who said something ignorant. Not who ran a KKK rally in front of a Mosque, not who protested en-masse at Wall Street, not who banned a minority’s customs or shot at soldiers. It’s much more worrisome than CNN pandering that “viewers tweeted this” about their headline story. Here, the feature is: “RANDOM GUY SAYS DUMB THING.”
|"But the NYTimes needs those clicks!"|
I’m used to (and sick of) the non-news story about a celebrity saying something offensive. Things Mel Gibson has said while inebriated have received more press than entire civil wars in Africa. It’s gossipy entertainment of some sort, and toxic of many other sorts, and largely a waste of the fourth estate.
These Twitter-quote stories are an expansion of celebrity infotainment. I understand that Gibson’s anti-Semitic remarks and movie-goers’ racism can be starting points for conversations about important social topics.
Except, they tend to spur very few conversations. I would have been blown away if Buzzfeed had featured a single journalist tracking down a single Conservative tweeter, finding out why they had radical misconceptions about Canada and Obama, culminating some sort of human exchange. But there is no dialogue with these individuals, only electronic shouting, and the Comments beneath such articles are full of partisan vitriol. The “Moving to Canada” story became an excuse for my Liberal friends to call Conservatives stupid all weekend. They were doing it anyway. This way they were only managing to do it more while being assured they learned nothing from reading the laziest possible news story.
It was hard not to line this “news story” up with the debut of HBO’s The Newsroom. The “Moving to Canada” nonsense was a sort of fodder for Liberal condescension, much as The Newsroom fodder for super-Conservative condescension. It’s hard not to reflect on the show’s plea for news media to focus on stories that matter. It’s also hard not to reflect on the Gawker columnist who told Aaron Sorkin that there should be a show about her site.