Here’s the problem with rumors on the Internet: nobody actually reads the contents of the posts. You see a buzzy title, something that catches your attention, makes you angry, makes you laugh, and that’s all you read. I’m not even blaming people for this, it’s something I do myself. We’re a society that shares content, without actually checking the content ourselves.
How many times have you had the following conversation?
You: Hey, did you hear about [INSERT NEWS STORY]?
Friend: I saw that too! What do you think about that?
You: I don’t know, I really only saw the one sentence on Twitter.
Friend: Yeah, me too. Hey, want to order more chalupas?
You: Of course. Of course I want to order more chalupas.
Chalupas aside, I think most of us have had that conversation word for word, many, many times. I certainly have, and been on both sides of the conversation. Point is, we don’t read news so much anymore, as internalize stories, and react to them. They’re bite-sized bits that we save for a lull in a conversation, rather than issues or events we actually care to know more about. Our conversations are, essentially, sound-bites, rather than real conversation.
Granted, that’s not totally true across the board… Of course, there are things we care enough about to read from top to bottom, but for the most part, we don’t read content, we skim. And the reason is clear: there’s just too much of it, all the time. I have a huge variety of interests, from Geek stuff (natch), to cooking, to science, and beyond… There’s no way I can be an expert in all of that. I can barely keep up with Geek culture, let alone casually reading cooking blogs. So when a big news story breaks – like the announcement this morning of new Harry Potter Universe set movies – chances are, all you read was the headline, or what your friends Tweeted or shared on Facebook, reacted, and that’s it.
What does this all have to do with Ben Affleck playing the new Harry Potter? Nothing, because he’s not… But I wrote enough in this blog post so far that most people just read the headline, and that’s it. It looked like a big block of text, and they tuned it out. They decided whether they believed it, or not, and that’s all.
There’s another way of reading, though, and that’s to look at the headline, and then quickly scan the article to see if something jumps out at you, an additional tidbit you can add to the above conversation to increase your currency, your knowledge about the issue. For a writer on the internet, a way of making sure more than a title jumps out is to reate a block quote, something that sticks out. Like this:
“I’m extremely excited to be playing the new Harry Potter,” said Affleck in a statement released by Warner Brothers earlier today. “It’s an iconic role that Daniel Radcliffe brought to life over the course of eight movies, and I can only hope to bring the same magic to Harry’s world.”
I also made the text bold, so your eye would go there more easily. That doesn’t mean Ben Affleck said anything of the sort, because of course he didn’t. Heck, Harry Potter isn’t even in the new movie, and neither is Affleck. But if you looked at the headline, and scanned for something shiny, then that quote is all you read… Not this paragraph.
So what’s my conclusion here? Nothing, really. Despite preaching this, I’ll continue to accidentally not practice it, because that’s how my brain has been trained to work on the modern internet. But be aware. Be on notice that every blog, paper, magazine, and pundit on Twitter is just trying to capture a teeny, tiny bit of the Internet pie, and just make sure to take the extra second and do your research, before you jump to conclusions, or hit that share button.
For example: a day before James Spader was announced as Ultron in ’Avengers: Age of Ultron’, I got an e-mail confirming that Paul Bettany was Ultron, and a completely reliable source had confirmed it. Anywhere in that chain, something could have gone wrong, and I don’t think anyone was maliciously trying to spread that rumor. But a website – a legit website – put that up because they wanted to get some views, any views at all. Because that’s what the Internet – and news reporting – has become. A race to get views.
…You know, kind of like if someone put up a blog post rumoring that Ben Affleck was going to be the new Harry Potter. That sort of thing. Now, who’s up for some chalupas?