Over the holidays, I noted a growing trend on my social media feeds: They were full of fluff, and worse than that, often inaccurate fluff.
The attached headlines are usually enticing. What’s beyond the click is amusing or irritating or heartbreaking or whatever emotion that the viral-content provider is aiming for. Its importance is debateable in the grand scheme. Its accuracy is usually suspect.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve embraced the digital revolution. I like fun. I’m capable of wasting too much time wading through click-bait.
However, I assumed, I’m not the only one noticing that all this viral content is growing. I wasn’t. My wife pointed me in the direction of a piece on Esquire’s website. (She’d probably come across it on her social media feed, but that’s OK.)
The article by Luke O’Neil, a freelancer, is headlined, “The Year We Broke The Internet: An explanation. An apology. A plea.”
“The media has long had its struggles with the truth — that’s nothing new,” O’Neil writes. “What is new is that we’re barely even apologizing for increasingly considering the truth optional. In fact, the mistakes, and the falsehoods, and the hoaxes are a big part of a business plan driven by the belief that big traffic absolves all sins, that success is a primary virtue. Haste and confusion aren’t bugs in the coding anymore, they’re features.”
O’Neil names names, including, “Upworthy, BuzzFeed, MailOnline, Viral Nova, and their dozens of knockoffs” that “have figured out: You don’t need to write anymore — just write a good headline and point.”
Doesn’t matter if the information is inaccurate because there’s online traffic to be had in promoting the alternate and supposedly accurate version after the falsehood has made a couple of laps around the circuit.
Does it really matter? Should we worry, for instance, that snow didn’t fall on Egypt’s pyramids last month, as several dishonest photos suggested in a digital hoax that went viral? What’s the harm?
Writing in Esquire, O’Neil frets that “one of these days a fake news story is going to have some serious real world consequences.”
My sense is that we’d all be better off with a more balanced diet. Sure, some sugar-laden empty calories are fine on occasion, but indulging breakfast, lunch and dinner will eventually make us sick.
At The Star, we aim to present a full picture of life in our part of northeast Alabama. We have crime reports, local government news, light features, sports, spirited commentary, including letters to the editor, profiles of the characters that make us unique, fast-moving live updates on our website and social media and the list goes on.
I’m also thinking of big stories that have a significant impact on our lives. Recent examples from December:
Tim Lockette examined the math behind Gov. Robert Bentley’s claim that his administration has cut $1 billion in state spending. The bulk came from state employees — in reduced jobs and decreased benefits.
Last weekend, Patrick McCreless checked with local health-care providers on Obamacare’s impact in this region.
Lockette wrote a feature obituary of Ken Hutcherson, an Anniston native who was a racial groundbreaker as a high school student, a star football player in college and the pros and, as a Seattle-based minister, a leading advocate against gay marriage.
All the viral content from across the globe found on Facebook, and other social media platforms, can’t equal a local news organization’s ability to fairly and accurately tell the story of a community.
That’s how we see it.
Bob Davis is associate publisher/editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @EditorBobDavis.