Mass Judgements and Media Hype

We live in a world that thrives on media hype. Forget the details and facts. Forget context, background, and objectivity. Forget innocent until proven guilty. Instead, a video/picture/tweet of something offensive goes out and becomes viral, and suddenly the public at large decides it’s time to voice its outrage.

I’m going to try to write this post without sparking debate on any one specific current event. Is that possible? I’m not sure.  I want to discuss not the right and wrong of individual incidents, but the overall phenomenon of viral anger.

What gets me about it is that people’s lives are affected (ranging from inconvenienced to completely ruined, depending on the level of the media-based outrage) because the public decides they should be – and in some cases, the public is wrong! Check out this article about a waitress who claimed she didn’t receive a tip because she’s gay. If you have the stomach for it, scroll down and read the comments, all negative and often profane, all passing sweeping judgments on conservatives in America. When the story broke, the waitress received donations of financial support from complete strangers, while those same strangers hurled venomous hatred towards the supposedly offending family.

Now read this article. The waitress lied. The family actually behaved as civil members of society should – tipping her for her service and NOT writing the offensive message that she posted in a Facebook photo.

In this case, the truth came out, but the damage was still done. I’m sure this poor family has dealt with a ton of negative backlash that they don’t deserve. People donated money to a woman who turned out to be a compulsive liar. Remember when I said you should know where your money goes? This is why!

Why do we feel that it’s OK, and even necessary, to react so strongly based on something so small as a random Facebook photo? Something that doesn’t begin to encompass the whole picture of any given situation? Granted, the media doesn’t help, sensationalizing everything for the sake of an audience, rather than focusing on truth and fair reporting. But still, each individual is responsible for their own reactions, and we owe it to our fellow members of society to try to see the whole picture before we pass judgement, instead of leaping to conclusions. In this case, the family was the victim, but you wouldn’t know it based on the initial knee-jerk reactions of the masses.

In the grand scheme of modern western culture, the lying waitress is a fairly low-key example. It’s safe to discuss here and still keep the focus on my main point of mass judgments. If I were to go into the really hot-button news stories, then my point would be lost as people misinterpreted or vehemently disagreed with anything I said about one example or another. But you know what I’m referring to:

The George Zimmerman/Treyvon Martin shooting. The police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Ray Rice. Adrian Peterson. Shall I go on?

We used to trust our justice system. We used to believe in due process and the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Now apparently we believe in social media and snap judgments on a massive scale.

I’m not saying all or any of the people listed above were in the right. I’m not saying that people in the news haven’t done bad things that deserve justice. But should that justice really be mob justice?

Mob justice ruins lives. Homes and communities are destroyed. Support systems are yanked out from under not only the individual targets, but their families as well. Jobs are lost, and so goes their means of supporting those who depend on them. Many of the targets of this kind of public outrage receive death threats. That isn’t justice based on due process and objective consideration. That’s revenge and malicious hatred, all based on media hype and limited knowledge of the facts.

And there’s such a double standard, too! Many of the same people who are angry at Ray Rice still listen to the music of Chris Brown! Why does society want to completely ruin the life of one man who hit his girlfriend while they still celebrate another as a rock star? I’m not saying that what either one did is OK, by any means. I’m pointing out the inconsistencies in the mass-media hyped-up viral anger.

Does one mistake really mean someone deserves to have his entire life, livelihood, and support system completely ruined? Do we really want to be in the habit of passing violent, vengeful judgement on others based on limited facts? Because what if the tables turn someday? What happens when (God forbid) we become the target of our own mob mentality? Maybe we’ll make a mistake that we’ll horribly regret and want to work past, but society won’t let us. Or maybe we’ll be in the wrong place at the wrong time and have skewed facts published about us. Maybe somebody will outright lie about us, like that waitress did. Do we want to be the ones receiving the death threats and other trappings mob justice?

Teens, I’m really looking to you for help on this one.  As you grow into adulthood, shape your own culture into one that’s better than what we have now.  Media influence isn’t going away.  Get into practice now at how you’ll respond to something offensive in the news.  Watch out for falling into the trap of believing the hype without knowing all the facts.  Give people the benefit of the doubt until they’re proven guilty, instead of working yourself into an angry frenzy over the subjective hype of media reporting.  Even then, remember that justice and revenge aren’t the same things.  Don’t be so quick to want to ruin someone’s life.  It could be yours someday.

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10 thoughts on “Mass Judgements and Media Hype

  1. We tend to rush to judgement. Rumors become the truth until disproved even when they have no basis in reality. We need to let time take its course and wait for judgement. Walking in another persons shoes is difficult if they have a different size or maybe they do not have feet. Time is a factor. Lynch mobs disperse after the initial injection of fear and hatred.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I enjoyed this article and agree with many of your observations. It frightens me the way the NFL is taking retroactive punitive actions against players as a direct result of media scrutiny. The organization is simply scapegoating individuals to grandstand in the face of bad PR. It would be more accountable for NFL to acknowledge that their policies weren’t strong enough and declare a zero tolerance assault policy from this point forward.

    It’s not that I have much sympathy for the players they are punishing, I just think it’s insulting to the public’s intelligence for them to start penalizing players now for things they had no problem with months ago. To me, that’s a double crime on the NFL’s part, but this approach of suddenly and dramatically changing your corporate culture to scapegoat a controversial member of your team has become standard play.

    We should be demanding real, systematic change on issues related to racism and domestic abuse, not the token persecution of an individual.

    Like

    • I agree with you on the point of retroactive punishments. Media backlash shouldn’t be a reason to persecute anyone.

      However, when it comes to the NFL, I would also like to see them at least acknowledge the fact that multiple concussions can cause rage issues, making these violent incidents more likely in their players. Not that it excuses the players’ actions, by any means, but maybe the NFL should be doing more to make sure they’re helping their players who may be at risk for this sort of behavior in the first place. Otherwise, the very institution that may have helped cause their negative behavior is then yanking out their means of supporting themselves in the name of saving face. How are these guys supposed to get help if they’ve just lost their jobs? Again, not excusing the behavior, but we should take a step back and look at the bigger picture and the root causes to see if we can keep the violence from happening in the first place.

      Like

  3. So many people click on the “share” button or “like” something before they even check out the facts. Whether it is a group denouncing Palestinians and asking all Christians to help the Jewish state, or posting that a certain number of soldiers were killed last week in Iraq and now one cared. No one stops to check to see if there was actually an offensive in Iraq last week. No one cares that most Christians in Israel are Palestinian, not Israeli. You are right…knee jerk emotional responses happen too often in our instant-everything world.

    But even without social-networks mobs will form, torches and pitch forks will be carried. It only takes one dynamic story teller to whip us up into a furry. History shows this to us time and again.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I too wish that people would “think” before reacting to gossip. It seems there is so much anger in society that people are ready to war with each other over sensationalized stories, just for the sake of the fight with total disregard for truth.

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  5. This is an excellent post and I like the fact that you are trying to generate thoughtful responses as opposed to automatic reactions.

    The problem that you describe is cultural.

    Our news media no linger give us news, it give us opinions and “suggests” possible courses of “action” based on agendas of which we are not fully aware.

    We are all connected as individuals.

    There is nothing more inconvenient than punitive economic policies based on lies.

    How would a steady drumbeat of covert calls for the assassination
    of our first black president, some of them from “experts” on
    mainstream news outlets, affect the minds of isolated men and
    women who are angry and close to the edge and who want
    to believe that the problem is one of “them”?

    You know who “they” are.

    How would the emotional and groundless debates over
    Obama’s religion and birthplace affect race relations in
    the United States?

    Perhaps it has no affect at all.

    The fact is, that I’ve yet to hear a discussion in the news
    that makes this connection,

    With rights come responsibilities.

    The exercise of free speech requires the ability to foresee the possible consequences of a given choice of words and to understand that words are the true building blocks of the worlds we create for each other.

    Without context, we cannot make informed decisions.

    Without context, we enter a never ending and barbaric cycle of action and reaction.

    This is what makes life in the United States so frustrating.

    We are an intelligent people who have been systematically split and now see ourselves
    in terms of “conservative” or “liberal” when actually, we are neither

    We are citizens of the United States of America.

    Stop watching and reading only the news with which you want to agree.

    Open your mind to the possibility that everyone is probably a little right and a little
    Wrong.

    Like

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