Whether it’s Covid-19 being developed in a lab or the rollout of 5G being the culprit, it is safe to say we have all absorbed our fair share of fake news and sensationalised journalism in the past year. But what happens when the press cross the line? Their job and obligation is to inform the public. However, it seems they may have overstepped their duty.
I have been wanting write about the damage that sensationalised media can do to some communities for some time now, well actually since I saw the rainbow poppy and an article saying Father Christmas wanted to be non-binary. The emergence of news corporations on social media such as LADBible, Buzzfeed and JOE.CO.UK, has seen us interact with news in different ways. Many users who follow my blog on instagram, @thefemalesays (if that is you, hello, love you) told me that they interact with these online news corps. Some said they see them but rarely click on the articles themselves and some admitted to having full blown arguments in the comments (LOL, me.)
Many news outlets may underestimate the power they hold. They also underestimate the power that the people who interact with them hold. Having a news outlet which operates online and survives off the basis that the public will interact with it is a challenge in itself. However, it is also paramount that such corporations do not push interactions to be hurtful. A hard balance, I assume. Sensationalisation is the process of making something (such as a news article) more vivid or shocking; a convention commonly used in journalism which isn’t peer reviewed or used for academic purposes. It is heavily used in tabloid newspapers and online articles.
Language is the most powerful tool available to news broadcasters, as it can be used to portray something exactly how one wants it to be portrayed. Take the ‘rainbow poppy’ which for the record, really pissed me off. If you are unfamiliar, a completely random person created a poppy pin badge with a rainbow design in stead of the classic red poppy us Brits wear in November for Remembrance Day. The infamous ‘rainbow poppy’ was soon picked up by a news outlet and labelled ‘the LGBT poppy’ with some fake explanation that it was for the LGBT soldiers in the war. One article even said something along the lines of ‘LGBT people think the rainbow poppy should REPLACE the red poppy’. Turns out, no-one actually ever said this, or suggested it. And obviously this was met with ‘WHY DO THE GAYS WANT EVERYTHING TO BE ABOUT THEM 😡😡😡😡😡😡😡’. And obviously ‘SNOWFLAKES 😡😡😡😡😡’. This, in my eyes, was a deliberate attack on the LGBTQ+ community and pushed an agenda of hate against them…against us! It was an attempt to get the public annoyed at the apparent defamation of a subject which really matters to British people. In reality, no-one asked for that, it was a random person on eBay who made the badge, with no context or comment. I found it so shocking how one interpretation of a completely harmless thing got so many people angry and ready to bash gay people, whom had no knowledge of this poppy and no intention of trying to replace the original.
I feel as though the pandemic could have been an opportunity for the press and tabloid journalism to fulfil their obligation and offer the public transparent, non-sensationalised news. However, scaremongering and fake news appear to have taken over. One of the worst instances of online news corps creating fear that didn’t need to be created was the articles shaming people for panic-buying……causing more people to go out panic-buying!
If you are currently reading from the UK, you will be familiar with seeing articles like this and thinking oh my god do I need to go and buy toilet roll? This situation would never have been this bad without the press and people on Facebook and forums bringing so much attention to it. That just makes us all want to do it more.
In addition, many things are blown way out of proportion by our trustworthy mates over at The Sun and The Mirror. I especially remember when London and Kent went into tier 4 lockdown a couple of days before Christmas and the press made it into a huge north/south battle. I saw articles about how Londoners now had to face Christmas alone, with many Northerners clearly amused by this. It was sad to see us fall apart as a nation, and take out our anger on each other, rather than the government who imposed the rules in the first place. Many Northerners were describing it as ‘payback’ for the neglect the north faced in the summer. I remember feeling defeated, because being divided is not what we need right now. This shows how powerful the news is, even when it doesn’t do the arguing itself. It provokes us; pushes us by exposing us to trivialised ideas and sensationalised stories. It gets people talking, but usually it gets people arguing.
Brexit has brought new struggles to the fight against the coronavirus. And the opportunity to scare the public was undertaken swiftly by the press. Britain acted quickly, taking a risk on the vaccine and ordering a shit load of it before anyone else (classic Britain.) But now rows with the EU are causing a stir…..are we going to have enough supply of vaccine? Yes, most probably. But we are exposed to the frightening thought that we wont, and this nightmare will never be over.
Speaking of vaccines, the news on social media was frightening when comments about keeping lists of who has had the vaccine were twisted into ‘YOU CANNOT HAVE YOUR LIFE BACK IF YOU REFUSE THE VACCINE’ and ‘THE VACCINE IS COMPULSORY’. This rhetoric only persuades civilians to be even more weary of the vaccine. Why are they forcing us to have it? In simple terms, no-one is forcing you to have the vaccine, you can turn it down if you wish with no repercussions. However, media releases like these caused a stir on social media.
This type of scaremongering creates space for conspiracy theorists to thrive, and allows fake news to be created easily. ‘Freedom pass’ and ‘allow them to live a normal life’ are shocking choices for a headline. These articles allow people to scaremonger on social media and push their personal agendas. I think much more should be done by the news corps themselves and social media platforms to monitor and restrict users and content. But why would JOE.CO.UK mediate comments when their interactions and therefore revenue will be booming? Exactly, they wouldn’t.
Some tabloid newspapers and online news outlets post stories for a bit of a laugh and I am guilty of spending my time reading them from time to time. However, I can spot a bait article when I see one. One I saw last year was an article about a discussion on Loose Women where Father’s Day came into question. Apparently a radical feminist from America (obvs) had said we should abolish Father’s Day as it is offensive to single mums and same sex parents. Obviously this sparked huge debate, controversy and outrageous bullying on social media from users who obviously had an agenda to push. I will (hopefully) one day be one member of a same sex parenthood, and can say I have no desire what so ever to try to abolish Father’s Day. But this gets me thinking, why do shows and news outlets choose to publish headlines like this? In my opinion, it is to belittle the entire communities – same sex parents, single mums and feminists. Communities who do not need to be punished over one person’s comment.
I find it almost like, one same sex parent or self-labelled feminist may have made this argument and may believe in it. But many from the same community don’t, and this is what many people do not understand. Yes we are from the same community or demographic but we don’t all share the same views on absolutely everything. The next example is even more frustrating for me. Someone (apparently) actually suggested that Santa should be non-binary. Yes, I actually said that. Here you go, if you don’t believe me!
Oh, and the linguist in me loved this tweet too! LOL
This type of journalism is so dangerous for LGBTQ+ folks and others who don’t conform with traditional binary genders. Yes they exist! And not simply to piss you off. Some people really struggle with gender identity and dysmorphia, so if you #can’trelate then lucky you. Broadcasting a story such as this is very irresponsible of the daily mail, as some of the comments were disgusting. It is almost as if the news corporation were making a space for people to express their hatred and bulling towards non-binary individuals which is just so upsetting. And sorry but you cannot convince me that these types or organisations release this sort of stuff to ‘raise awareness’ or ‘start a discussion’, they do it for one reason only, and that is to hate on people who are different and communities who are already having the hardest time dealing with things. I think it is plain nasty.
In conclusion, journalism on the whole has a responsibility to the public. Tabloids and social media news corps often abuse their power and spark ‘debates’ of which the outcomes can be horrendous for some communities. Imagine logging onto Facebook and seeing that 200,000 people are laughing at your community. Imagine plucking up the courage to come out and then you see the world angry at you for something you never even suggested. I think this type of journalism has a lot to answer for, not just through the pandemic. Fake news, propaganda and agenda pushing can have such life-ruining consequences. I think social media platforms need to do more to stop the circulation of fake news, but also to monitor the people who interact with online articles. Yes this is a free country but hate speech is against the law; people can still see what you write.
I think in a circumstance like right now, where we need transparency from the news we absorb, news corporations should understand the power they hold. Not everyone is lucky enough to have the awareness that some things may be there to provoke us, and not everyone can stop themselves being exposed to political, conspiracy and simply incorrect propaganda. I would encourage you to be vigilant, don’t believe everything you see on Facebook and maybe take a minute to ask yourself, ‘is this trying to get a reaction out of me’ and ‘are these publishers trying to push an agenda against someone?’ In addition, help the more vulnerable people in your life and prevent them from exposure to fake news; don’t repost things you don’t know to be true. Please leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts! I will leave you with arguably my favourite article headline of 2020. Thanks for reading and take care y’all!