The internet has drastically changed the way we consume our news, for better or for worse. And thanks to the proliferation of clickbait headlines, satirical news publications that can appear indistinguishable from the real thing, and – most importantly – the demise of the 24-hour news cycle, the line between “news” and “stuff somebody feels like writing about” has gotten increasingly blurry in recent years.
Here are five things that you or your friends may share on social media that you may think are important news, but are neither important nor news.
The Media Isn’t Giving This Story Enough Coverage!
Did you hear about that mass shooting in, I think it was Kansas City? (or maybe it was Buffalo?) that didn’t happen because an armed person shot and killed the would-be shooter? Or how about the hundreds of people who showed up in San José? (or maybe it was Albuquerque?) to protest some horrible injustice? Of course you didn’t, because the mainstream media didn’t cover it like they should!
So goes the complaint that news consumers offer up when a story that they think is important isn’t getting enough media coverage. Certainly more than one of your Facebook friends has posted a story with the headline “Why isn’t the mainstream media covering this?”
Here are a couple of things you need to know about that: first of all, chances are, the mainstream media is covering the story you think they’re hiding; you’re just looking in the wrong place (or even worse, you’re buying into the lie that the media is overlooking a story because it fits a political narrative).
Consider, for example, the story of Olympic Shooter Kim Rhode. The mainstream media ignored her accomplishments, the narrative goes, because she is a gun rights advocate who supports Donald Trump.
— Sarah Burris (@SarahBurris) August 16, 2016
In fact, according to Snopes, Rhode’s story was covered by the “mainstream media,” and quite well. Articles about her appeared in USA Today, the New York Times, CBS Sports, SB Nation, NBC, WGN, the Chicago Tribune,Time, Forbes, Huffington Post, and NPR.
Also – and I can’t stress this enough – unless you live in a place where the government provides the news (and believe me, you don’t want to live in a place like that), the “mainstream media” is a profit-driven enterprise. That means that publications publish stories that they think the readers will read and share, which will, in turn, produce more revenue. Often, that means that a story you believe is one of profound importance simply isn’t – or at least, it’s not important enough that millions of other readers are likely to care about it.
The President Is At Leisure While Some Terrible Tragedy Is Unfolding
By now you’re no-doubt aware that Barack Obama has been playing golf at Martha’s Vineyard while parts of Louisiana are buried under floodwaters. Similarly, George Bush went on vacation while some tragedy happened, as did Clinton, and George HW Bush before him, and Carter, and so on. In fact, the notion of a clueless and/or disinterested head of state gleefully ignoring an unfolding tragedy goes back as far as accusations that Nero fiddled while Rome burned.
— Chrys Muirhead (@ChrysMuirhead) July 7, 2016
Here’s the thing: say what you will about the President of the United States (or any head of state, ever), but at the end of the day he is a man who puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like I do. He is neither a god nor a king. He cannot show up in Louisiana, wave a hand, and make everything better. In fact, whatever he can do (sign legislation, approve disaster relief money, and so on), he’s better off doing it from Washington than he is from the disaster area.
And consider this: in some ways, the President’s presence at a natural disaster will probably just make things worse. Do you really want Air Force One taking up space on a runway that would better be used by planes dropping off aid workers and supplies? Do the people trying to recover from the disaster need the additional inconvenience of having to make their way around the media, a Secret Service detail, and whatever else accompanies the President whenever he goes somewhere?
Somebody, Somewhere Didn’t Give American Iconography The Deference You Think It Deserves
Until last week, I had never heard of Gabby Douglas, mainly because I care about neither gymnastics nor the Olympics. But since then, I’ve heard more about her than I ever wanted to or needed to, and it’s all because of this:
— Drew Kyle (@_DrewKyle) August 10, 2016
Yep, for a brief period of a couple of minutes, Gabby Douglas held her arms at her side. And people all across American lost. their. damn. minds.
In fact, Gabby Douglas is not the first person to catch hell for not holding their hand over their heart during the national anthem, or for not saluting the flag, or for any other perceived slight against symbols of America. Nor will she be the last.
But here’s the thing: we don’t know why Gabby Douglas didn’t hold her hand over her heart that day. Maybe she belongs to a religion that views that as idol-worship. Maybe she had other things on her mind and wasn’t thinking about it. Maybe her arms were tired. I don’t know – nor I do care. But what I do know is that that national anthem and the American flag are not gods to be worshiped, and if – heaven forbid – someone fails to give one or both the the deference you think they deserve, it’s not news. In fact, it’s not a big deal at all.
Sorry, But UFO’s Aren’t Real
A UFO was spotted near an Air Force base, and the government isn’t talking about it! Clearly, it’s a sign of aliens!
Do you want to know the reason why most UFO sightings are spotted near military bases? Because military craft fly into and out of military bases, that’s why. And guess what – as civilians, we aren’t privy to all of the technology that the military has. And considering that the military doesn’t want its secrets out, you can pretty much expect that every time there’s a so-called “UFO” near a military base, the military is going to keep quiet.
— GENDAI (UNVISION) (@gendai0207) August 16, 2016
Other UFO sightings can almost always be attributed to wishful thinking, the light playing tricks on you, camera artifacts, or good old-fashioned pareidolia – the tendency of the human brain to assign meaning to random information, which will be discussed in more depth in the next section of this article.
But there’s an even deeper, philosophical reason why aliens aren’t likely to want to visit Earth. As of this writing, the most advanced technology on Earth still has yet to make anything even approaching interstellar travel even remotely possible. That means that, if aliens exist and they have the technology to visit us, they are literally centuries ahead of us technologically. That means there is absolutely nothing here that would be of any interest to them.
There Are No Faces, Pyramids, Or Spoons On Mars, And Jesus Christ Has Not Appeared In A Piece Of Toast
The sight of something unexpected – such as a face, a pyramid, a spoon, or something else other than rocks, dust, and geological formations – on an alien surface may make for an interesting photo, but it’s just that: an interesting photo.
— ScottSpielberg (@SpielbergScott) November 13, 2015
There is no spoon on Mars, and I can tell you that confidently because I believe scientists when they say that intelligent life capable of carving spoons does not now, and has not ever, existed up there.
There are a couple of reasons why, when you look at that picture, you think you a see a spoon. The first is the power of suggestion: I used the word “Spoon” twice before I posted the picture, so once you saw it, you were expecting to see a spoon. It’s the same reason why, if I told you you’ll hear a ghost say “Vote Trump 2016” in a sound clip and then post a sound clip of random noises, you’ll hear “Vote Trump 2016” instead of just random noise.
The other reason is pareidolia, the psychological process that causes the human brain to make sense out of random stimuli and assign meaning when there is none. It’s the same reason why random burn marks on a piece of toast can appear to look like Jesus Christ.
Got nervous, saw Jesus Christ was trending. Thought He was back, or His image was found on toast again. pic.twitter.com/bLwbUjDWmP
— Severen (@SeverenLynn) April 11, 2016
So while an interesting photo of something unexpected on Mars, or a vague pattern that somewhat resembles a face appears in an unexpected place, may make for an interesting photo so share and get a couple of laughs about, it’s nothing more significant than a random oddity. It is not news.
[Image via Shutterstock/sukiyaki]