Friday, July 8, 2016

Clickbait headlines are undermining democracy

Because the only way I can function today is to focus on something other than the Dallas shootings and the seemingly unwarranted killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, I thought to comment on something else. Our inability to get anything DONE about the problems we're seeing.

But today I really want to focus on the media's role in public perception through their use of headlines and how that influences those in power.

Every time I see a clickbait headline on what might be an excellent article, I want to cringe. In fact, I have stopped sharing these articles on social media, even if the article is wonderful and full of facts instead of journalistic integrity, as I believe that they encourage divisiveness rather than cohesion. Titillation rather than decency.

Clickbaiting has had a detrimental effect on our democracy. Yes, practicing your 1st amendment rights as a free press is sometimes not good for our democracy.

You know the articles I'm talking about. The articles with the headlines in all caps - "Congress CAVES..." "Obama EXCORIATES..." (also, ewww), "So-and-so OBLITERATES...". Do a google search for "congress caves" or "gop caves to obama" and you'll see what I mean.

If every time that Congress decides to actually get something done, they are accused of "caving" to another position, nothing will ever get done. If they are worried that they won't ever get re-elected because their headlines all talk about them giving up everything they believe in to the evil empire, why would they ever want to partake? And that is pretty much where we find ourselves.

I'm resolving to create better headlines for my own tiny piece of the internet. Granted, nobody reads my silly little blog, and very few ever actually see my headlines, but I'm going to try to make my headlines a little less riot-inducing and more explanatory.

As it relates to our gun problem, I had a few thoughts.

We need to be able to have discussions and compromise without being SLAUGHTERED in the media headlines. Because America is far too lazy to click through and actually READ the articles. And far too uneducated to actually understand the nuance in many articles.

Compromise is not "CAVING" to demands. It is what our country was founded on. Nobody gets everything they want.

For instance, I would love to see the 2nd amendment repealed. I believe it's completely irrelevant in today's society. Will that actually ever happen? Nope. I'll have to compromise and be happy if and when we get progress that includes restrictions on military-grade weaponry. Restrictions on who can own a weapon (ie, convicted dangerous felons, who aren't even allowed to vote in some states, but can purchase firearms in those same states). Background checks for every purchaser on every purchase of weapons and high-grade ammo.

These things don't mean I have "CAVED" on my original position. They mean that I am an adult who can see that a better solution that is not perhaps the best solution is better than no solution at all.

Congress refusing to hold a vote on a gun legislation because they want to punish Democrats for their "bad behavior" in protesting that there is no vote on gun legislation is idiotic and infuriating. It's retaliation for exercising 1st amendment rights (the GOP loves their constitution - what's up with the retaliation?). It's freaking childish, and we should expect more from our elected leaders.

Congress refusing to discuss how we can make policing more effective for both the police and the communities they serve because they don't want to reward the BLM movement's "bad behavior" is ridiculous. We would never have a Civil Rights Act if someone wasn't willing to listen to reason and learn and act. Educating someone on issues is not bad behavior. Learning about issues and being able to change your view on them is not CAVING. Fixing problems is not CAVING. Fixing problems means finding solutions. Finding good solutions is never caving.

The media highlighting all of this in titillating ALLCAPS is not journalism. It's impeding our democracy. Do I wish our elected officials were above letting it influence them? Of course I do. But do I understand that headlines will always influence them? Of course I do.

Additionally, you are only cementing public opinion, not educating the public. Each side clings to their ALLCAP headlines like lifeboats in an unstable sea, and they provide the opportunity less for learning and more for childish retorts. "SEE? I TOLD you my way was the best! They CAVED!" You are not educating, or changing any minds here. You are cementing often-ignorant opinions with headlines that incite rather than educate.

So media, please stop EXCORIATING people when they CAVE to DEMANDS. Because you're making the problem worse. You're encouraging it. You're not reporting the news. You're reporting style is as childish as Congress is. I understand that in this world of rolling twitter timelines you want to stand out. I get it. Really. But you do a total disservice to your profession.

Write responsible headlines that indicate what the article is TRULY about, not what will rile the most people. Write articles that are insightful, not inciteful. Educate us. Help us form our opinions - don't simply cement our existing ones.

So just stop it with the clickbait. I beg of you.

In the meantime, I continue to pray for peace and for those injured and for the families and loved ones of those killed - both in Dallas and in cities around America every day.

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