Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a troubling alteration to my Facebook feed, and it has, on countless occasions, made my blood boil; it has tested my will; and it has tempted me to compose ill-mannered and impotent internet rants.
And if you — as a Facebook user — have contributed to this obnoxious trend, odds are I’ve unfollowed you.
I’m talking about the promotion of mindless viral “news” sites — the pages that have no journalistic merit, that contribute to the formation of needlessly radical ideas and that are too often taken as examples of accurate reporting.
I’m talking about sites like the obviously conservative Independent Journal Review — an online publication that has, as of late, demonstrated a bizarre fixation on the Bible, guns and Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper.” And I’m talking about the equally noxious publication UpWorthy — which forwards a liberal agenda and publishes fatuous stories that range in topic from the questioning of law enforcement officials to the criticizing of capitalism.
At The Jambar, we take pride in our attempts to always remain ethical in our reporting; we strive for objectivity and accuracy; we write and report stories; and we never forward a political agenda. When we do share an opinion, we make sure it’s clearly labeled as such.
Though no news outlet is perfect, the viral news sites mentioned above — along with several others — do not make any effort to abide by these widely accepted journalism ethics. Their articles are not journalism; they are, instead, examples of manipulative propaganda.
What’s more, these sites often lie about their mission, falsely labeling their reports as objective news articles. In fact, the IJ Review’s “About” page describes the site as “a news platform and publisher dedicated to being objective, fair and entertaining.” Entertaining, maybe, but let’s be clear: there is nothing objective or fair about IJ Review.
Unfortunately, these sites do not simply exist; they thrive. While IJ Review generates 35 million unique visitors per month, UpWorthy garners 50 million total engagements.
How do they experience so much success, you ask? Well, it seems to be that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have helped popularize these viral news outlets. Thousands of social media users consume and then share and like these insipid articles.
It is not simply that these articles are an annoying trend. They provide a way to substantiate the views of their similarly minded readers with an echo chamber. It gives readers a thriving community in which opinion is held as definitive truth and facts are molded into agendas. In other words, it discourages independent agency and encourages polarization. Fox News and MSNBC are the popularized versions of this, but these smaller sites are subtle and therefore, in some ways, more dangerous.
Though we certainly agree these sites have the right to publish this nonsense, harmful though it may be, we ask readers to take action, to become more conscientious posters and to think twice before sharing media on the web. Ask yourself: does this post educate my online friends? Or does it simply echo my personal opinions? Is this link an example of objective and quality reporting? Or is it sensational propaganda — perpetuating party polarization?
We ask our readers to think about the function of news, because this is the sad truth: in a digital era filled with funny cat videos and Willy Wonka memes, we’ve come to expect constant entertainment. Certainly news can be entertaining; in some instances, to make the most impact, it should be entertaining, but in its attempts to entertain it should not be reduced to the level of juvenile Internet trends. News should primarily work to inform and educate. We ask our readers to be conscientious consumers. Though this kind of quality news is not always as entertaining as Charlie the Unicorn, it is our responsibility to become informed citizens, to be aware of the plights of others and to seek out respected publications.
But if people are not going to read real news, the least they can do is stop themselves from propagating harmful viral news on their Facebook feed and stick to puppy and kitten videos instead.