That title surely got your attention there, didn’t it? I made that title up in five seconds, only after reading one article that
- confirmed biases and limited information that I already had or imagined,
- had very little to do with any of the “hot” words that I put there to get your clicks and
- will put certain biases in your own mind before you even read the article or who it is written by.
In other words, it is straight out of the handbook of the modern, first-past-the-post, I’ve-a-lovely-pitchfork-let’s-go-in-half-cocked, social-media-sourced, research-limited-to-a-minute-tops internet journalist.
The truth is a fickle bitch.
Just when you think you’ve got her figured out, she strips away another layer of misconception to reveal a new bit of scarred yet still beautiful skin. Except, the thing is, if you had looked closer, or asked her outright, you would have seen this supposedly secret part to her already. That’s the problem in an age when news breaks in 140 characters or less, .8 seconds on your screen as you scroll by, headlines with no context, and with opinion/speculation masquerading as fact/information.
Before anybody scrolls down to point it out, yes, I have written and do write about conspiracy theories, as well as having speculated on the innocence or guilt of former politicians and other controversial topics. I also write fiction, in case anyone is interested. The point is, I’m not a respected journalist with a large following, ready to retweet and get upset at my bidding. Also, I’ve never made an online statement earnestly which I knew to be false in order to get attention and compensation, and then continue to trumpet that false idea even in the face of the truth, but we’ll come back to that later.
There seems to be a problem inherent with internet era communication. The only interaction a person might have with a writer is reading some of their pieces or blurbs online. From that, people presume to know the entire inner workings of the author’s mind – as well as that of their mother’s, in some cases – and create a persona that is more than likely a long way off from being accurate. True, the writer should express their truths in a way that allows a degree of insight into some of their ideas and thoughts. However, unless you’re writing Stephen King³ levels of autobiographical and analytic material, it’s
hard impossible to know how these ideas and opinions came about. How they affect the daily thought process of the author, and the new information that could change some of those opinions, ideas or beliefs.
Because believe it or not, you are not a special little snowflake. You are not the only one with an open mind, open to new truths or old truths newly revealed. You’re not the only beacon of reason, willing to change your mind and admit when you are wrong about something, and challenge the ideas that seem false, or hypocritical. Of course, the people who aren’t open to changing their opinions are both lauded and ridiculed, as steadfast and stubborn, respectively, but this doesn’t apply to them. They’ve already made up their mind, and I don’t have the tools and personal insight to inspire change there. Yet…
To give you an example of the former, imagine there is a person who wrote a piece on the necessity to plunge headfirst into an armed conflict in a foreign land, after coming across or receiving information that might indicate there is a threat to their homeland. When new information comes to light, both in terms of the human (and financial, but fuck money) costs and the falsifications that led to a declaration of war, and that person then writes a piece about the lies told to people in order to garner support for said conflict, they’re not a hypocrite, or a liar, or a person who jumps on the bandwagon when it suits them. It’s not a question of if they were right both times, or only once, or wrong on both counts. They wrote something with the information they had at the time, that amount of truth that was revealed to them at that time. About how the information that was presented to them affected their thought process at that moment, and the things they have learned since. People are people, and so are writers, and most people are not the same as they were twenty years ago, or ten, or five, or maybe even one. A lot can happen in a short space of time, and a lot can be learned and unlearned. (Obviously, this example is based around the assumption that the writer in question is honest and earnest. Leeches and sensationalists are another breed who must be dealt with accordingly)
Too good to check.
That’s not the stuff I’m taking umbrage with. That’s existed in one form or another since reporting and writing about things began. What I’m talking about is the new age of reaction, which appears to me to take two forms.
The first is the most common and pervasive. You know what I’m talking about. You see it on your Facebook and Twitter feeds every day, and it seems like a lot of people take part in it. Clickbait is the term, and I find it is one of the more concise and apt new words to be added to the lexicon. Like some dumbass salmon, we see a headline or a picture in the vein of the one I’ve used for this post and we bite. Usually? A load of codswallop. Shite gleaned from shady “news” sites, split up over ten pages to get maximum ad revenue for the hosting site. No sources, bad writing and minus substance. You become less intelligent for having participated in this brain suck. Easily spotted if you know the tricks, and have snopes.com favourited in your browser.
5 Ways Not To Get Caught Out By Misleading Bullshit Headlines! You won’t believe number 4!!!
However, it’s mostly harmless, like Jehovah’s Witnesses sending you chain letters. You can ignore it, or you can click it and waste your time, maybe try to squeeze some masochistic enjoyment out of it. Ultimately though, you’re only hurting yourself and whoever you share it with.
The worst is the second kind of reactionary bull. It uses the same structures to spread the message, but the people targeted are actually affected by the content. For example, the recent “scandal” involving Timothy Hunt resulted in the man being expelled from or forced to resign various positions. Positions that still haven’t been restored. There’s a great piece on CommentaryMagazine about it. For those not in the know about the facts, or who didn’t read the piece (which you really should) Timothy Hunt is a British biochemist who, among other achievements, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 2001. In a timeframe of less than 48 hours after he made a harmless joke at a luncheon sponsored by the Korea Federation of Women’s Science and Technology Associations in Seoul this summer, he was given the choice of resigning or being fired from his positions at UC London and the Royal Society. He was also on the receiving end of torrents of online abuse. The joke was as follows:
“It’s strange that a chauvinist monster like me has been asked to speak to women scientists. Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry. Perhaps we should make separate labs for boys and girls.”
Now maybe you know who I’m talking about. Outcry from the public and both female and male leaders in scientific circles made headlines for days about this “chauvinist monster” who was, according to some creative types, seeking “segregated labs“. What the intrepid science journalist Connie St. Louis tweeted after the lunch was:
Nobel scientist Tim Hunt FRS (Fellow Of The Royal Society) says at Korean women lunch: I’m a chauvinist and keep ‘girls’ single lab.
Already, we’re starting to edge into the realms of the farcical, but what is even more shocking is the omittance of the next few lines of Hunt’s toast:
“Now seriously, I’m impressed by the economic development of Korea. And women scientists played, without doubt, an important role in it. Science needs women, and you should do science despite the obstacles and despite monsters like me!”
But of course, as we all know, magnanimous soundbites only get half the favourites and a quarter the retweets of inflammatory statements.
The furor afterwards was stirred up by other journalists, including a professor of journalism(!!) and a New York Times columnist, as well as the stalwart mainstream news organisations like the good old BBC, and of course the obligatory SJWs on Twitter and Facebook. Even though none of them researched past the offending tweet, the man still had to resign under threat of dismissal. Even now, in light of the investigations that were conducted by Louise Mensch, novelist and former member of parliament, these culpable journos refuse to acknowledge their errors, instead citing the existence of sexism in the scientific arena as reason enough to destroy an innocent man. An effigy on the pyre of false justice; their argument is that it doesn’t matter who burns, as long as somebody does.
Ridiculously, especially in context of the lambasting he received, the man is by all accounts the polar opposite of a misogynist, well known in the scientific community for being a mentor and supporter of female scientists, as well as helping the EU Research Council develop their “gender-equity plan.” Plus, I think his wife would have copped on to his chauvinistic ways, herself being a senior biologist who is a leading advocate for opportunities for women in the sciences.
So what are we to do, then, to stem the tide of shite?
STOP BLINDLY SHARING SHITE...
… especially on these “hot button” issues like gender inequality. Read up for yourselves, and don’t let hacks with an agenda or ulterior motives try to influence you. Use your best judgement when making decisions about what people say. There’s literally a whole world of information at your literal fingertips. Double check that shit, and learn something. Just think that if something you said or wrote was taken out of context, and over a weekend your life was ruined because of it. Wouldn’t you have preferred for someone to hear the whole story? Watch out that you don’t become part of the lynch mob, only to find out too late that your lynchee was innocent.
This applies to what I write as well, by the way.
Don’t just take my word for it.
Disclaimer: I am in no way insinuating that the people involved in this story are Nazis, rapists, terrorists or any combination thereof or sympathizers with such. The fact that I even have to state this, though, almost makes me weep. It’s up there with those warnings on bags of peanuts that say “May Contain Nuts.”
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