We belong to a generation that demands information. We want to know the when, the where and the what in real time. In this aggressive quest for more information, we tend to gravitate toward what we would like to hear whether it is accurate or not; due to the reach of online and mass media today, we get just that, which often leads to misinformation and ignorance.
It is not that the information presented is completely wrong, but it isn’t entirely accurate, either. Sensationalism sells, and we have been seeing it in the media for a while now.
On Oct. 3, 2017, two days after the mass shooting during a concert in Las Vegas, conservative news site Breitbart published a story headlined, “Paul Ryan sides with Hillary: shelves bill to deregulate suppressors.”
The real story here was that in response to the shootings, House Speaker Ryan said that Congress would take no action on gun legislation of any kind. That included shelving the bill that would deregulate suppressors (silencers).
Yet the headline and the article seems to suggest Ryan and Hillary Clinton were working to prevent precisely that legislation from going to the floor. The only connection to Clinton was that she tweeted that the massacre would be worse had the shooter used a silencer, which the NRA was advocating easy access to through a bill.
Considering the millions of people who follow Breitbart, many of whom already distrust Washington insiders, these headlines only work toward affirming such beliefs.
A lot of sensationalizing occurs as media companies have been trying to cater to the narratives that the viewers are looking for. CNN stories highlighting political figures like Sen. Elizabeth Warren brashly chiding Wall Street CEOs echo a narrative many people hold today. These snippets have now gotten to a point where they are the main story.
The looming influence of social media just spreads this sensationalism on a massive scale and distorts the truth. Last November, an article titled “Trump offers free one-way ticket to Africa and Mexico for those wanting to leave America” received over half a million views, according to Business Insider. This was not a true story, and yet many people readily believed it.
Just as baffling, another story claimed that the FBI agent investigating Clinton’s emails killed himself after murdering his wife. These fake articles are not published to make people believe in such possibilities. but rather sell because many people have already accepted that it could happen.
Mass media today have resorted to sensation because news stories have become a product that companies are marketing. Information is specifically catered to what we want. A lot of it ends up being brought to us as a conclusion that fits into our narrative rather than information for us to mold our belief.
This isn’t something these agencies came up with, but rather something we demanded. We want to hear what we like. The competition is about which packaging of information suits our needs.