Sharing Your Feelings

Yesterday morning during some random Twitter scrolling, I saw two interesting tweets in my feed that seemed a bit related. The first was one complaining about a phenomena that has been irritating the heck out of me recently :


If the embed doesn’t work, here’s the link. The first shot is some text from a Pacific Standard article about Lisa Durden’s firing. In it, the author claims that “In contrast to other free speech-related controversies on college campuses, there has been almost no media coverage of Durden’s ouster.” The Google news search however shows a different story….in fact many media outlets have covered the story.

Now this type of assertion always seems a little surprising to me for two reasons:

  1. We have absolutely unprecedented access to what people and news outlets are/are not reporting on, and any claim like this should be easy to verify.
  2. It’s an easy claim to modify in a way that makes it a statement of opinion, not fact. “there has been far less media outrage” would seem to preserve the sentiment without being a statement of fact.

Once I started thinking about it, I felt like I heard this type of assertion made quite frequently. Which of course got me wondering if that sort of hyper-attention was part of the phenomena. I think everyone knows the feeling of “I heard one reference to this issue/unusual word/obscure author and now I have seen it 5 places in two days”. I got to wondering….could a related (but opposite) phenomena happen when it came to people you disagreed with saying things? Were people purposefully ignoring or discounting reporting from outlets that didn’t fit their narrative, or were they actually not hearing/registering things that were getting said?

I started wondering further when in one recent case, a writer for the Federalist actually Tweeted out the links to her search results that “proved” the New York Times wasn’t covering a story about NSA abuses under Obama. However, the NYTs had actually covered the story (they broke it actually), and clicking on her links shows that their story was among the results she had been scanning over. She issued a correction Tweet a few hours later when someone pointed that out, which makes me doubt she was really trying to deceive anyone. So what made her look at the story and not see it?

Well, this brings me to the second Tweet I saw, which was about a new study about the emotional drivers of political sharing across social networks. I don’t have access to the full text of the paper, but two interesting findings are making headlines:

  1. For the issues studied (gun control, same-sex marriage, climate change), including moral-emotional language in your headline increased sharing by 20%
  2. This sharing increase occurred almost exclusively in your in-group. Liberals and conservatives weren’t sharing each others stories.

I’m speculating wildly here, but I wonder if this difference in the way we share stories contributes to perceptions that the other side is “not talking” about something. When something outrages my liberal (or conservative) friends, the same exact article will show up in my news feed 10 times. When the opposing party comments on it/covers it, they almost never share the same exact story, they comment/share different ones. They only comment on the same story when they oppose the coverage.

For example, in the NSA case above, the story that got Mollie Hemingway looking at search results was titled “Obama intel agency secretly conducted illegal searches on Americans for years.”. The ones she missed in the NYTs results was “N.S.A. Halts Collection of Americans’ Emails About Foreign Targets” and “How Trump’s N.S.A. Came to End a Disputed Type of Surveillance“. Looking at those 3 headlines, it’s easy to see why you could miss they were all talking about the same thing. At the same time, if you’re going to claim that a story isn’t being reported, you need to double check that it’s not just your feelings on the story that aren’t being mirrored.

And also lest I be a hypocrite here, I should talk about the time I committed this error because I failed to update my information. Back in February I made that error, claiming that TED didn’t update their webpage to reflect the controversy with Amy Cuddy’s research. I was right the first time I claimed it and wrong the second time. I could have sworn I rechecked it, but I either didn’t recheck when I thought I did, or I simply didn’t see the correction that got added. Was it because I was looking for a more dramatic correction, bold letters or some other sort of red flag? Yeah, I’d say that was part of it. TED does not appear nearly as concerned about the controversy as I am, but that doesn’t mean they failed to talk about it.

I need a name for this one I think.

18 thoughts on “Sharing Your Feelings

  1. You’re right. This does need a name. Unwonted oversight? Nah, too obscure and not catchy enough. If you come up with a clever enough name, I’ll publicize it the way I have waif-fu and flying snowman.


      • JRR Tolkien addressed this in his essay “On Fairy Stories.” (page 6, in reference to writing about a world with a green sun. CS Lewis wrote about the same thing in “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What Needs To Be Said.”

        In brief, they insisted that fantastical elements are allowable when they are not merely arbitrary. They must be true to their own inner laws. Both wrote fantasies that took place in worlds very much like our own, subject to laws of nature we would recognise. Lewis was distressed when it was pointed out after publication that Mr. & Mrs. Beaver could not have fried a fish in butter, because Always Winter = No Cows. That beavers were frying a fish did not violate the laws of his story. The butter did.

        Therefore, I consider the viscosity of the lava to be problem, albeit a small and little-noticeable one, that the origin of orcs is not.

        Related. There is actually not much magic in Tolkien or Lewis. There are fantastical creatures, and some allowance to enchant objects (with great effort). Middle-Earth and Narnia seem awash with miracles because we are observing the pivotal events, when the miraculous might be most likely to be brought into play, for good or ill. If we look at the daily life of Bree, Archenland, or even Gondor or Cair Paravel there isn’t much magic lying about. No +5 swords of dragon smiting. They echoed the Biblical narrative in this. Most of the 4000+ years it records have no prophecy, no cursings, no miracles. Those show up mostly in the pivotal times.


  2. You have a fatal flaw – a conscience.
    As much as I hate to say this, the issue you are bringing up is complex.
    For example, the NYT or TED does something on “page one” and three months later the follow up is on page six or in another section, a search for the topic may not even find the follow-up or the link to the follow-up may be several pages into the search results.
    And the choice of search terms could influence what you find.
    And perception can be influenced by coverage by a source. Supposedly CNN has mentioned “Russia” 16,000 times in the past few months but some other very important stories are covered for a day or two. If you didn’t watch or read during that day or two you would think CNN didn’t cover that particular story even if you search their site.
    So you are dealing with human perception and recall, not hard truth. And your conscience won’t let you simply make a statement you believe is true based on your perception and recall. That is admirable, but I’m guessing you will need a prescription to deal with the consequences of having a conscience in the near future. (said in jest)
    I recall that recently I misread something (no idea what it was) and missed an “un” or “not” and thought that the article was about the exact opposite of what it was about. Fortunately, I have learned to reread things before offering up my most learned opinion of the subject. Hopefully this long comment is relevant to this topic since I’m just going to hit post and go take a shower.


    • Very on topic, glad you hit post. I think the human perception part was what I was thinking of.

      Reading about a topic you already have feelings on can be tricky. I remember doing that once at work with an email from someone I didn’t like. I went tearing in to my bosses office complaining loudly about the person and their lack of professionalism. She asked to read the email and then looked at me and said “I’m really sorry, I don’t see what you’re talking about”. I reread the email in a calmer state and really couldn’t find what had made me so upset at the beginning. If I hadn’t known it to be impossible (or at least way more effort than it would have been worth), I would have believed they altered the email. I was a little abashed by the whole thing.

      Of course it did give me a great object lesson in not trusting my first read.


  3. OK, a little more on this.
    “The Google news search however shows a different story….in fact many media outlets have covered the story.”
    There is a BIG difference between the number of ORIGINAL stories and the number of REPEATED stories. If you look carefully at the content of the stories you will often see that there is only one ORIGINAL story (such as an AP or Reuters news “feed”) and many that are rewrites of that. And then bloggers pick the story up from those sources, etc. So, a Google news search may show many media outlets covering it, but only one story. And often those media outlets are “covering” the story by simply linking to some RSS feed. I don’t consider that covering a story. Covering to me means a different reporter investigating the story from a different perspective.


    • That’s a good point, and one I’m not sure I’ve fully wrapped my head around. The internet makes it hard to distinguish between many voices conversing about a subject, and many voices just parroting each other. Both have the appearance of “coverage” without introducing any new facts, and can be irritating in their own way.


  4. Mistaken? Misperception? Not very imaginative. Maybe something that uses Google, Googling, MisGoogle, Laziness. Premature Commenting.


  5. That particular NSA story I thought was a masterpiece of subtly not covering something, while maintaining plausible deniability. Yes, the NYT did cover the NSA story. Once, I think, though there may have been other coverage that escaped my notice. They did not highlight the “under the Obama administration” angle, which would probably not have been the case if it were under Bush or Trump. I am thinking of the Patriot Act coverage here. However, that might well work in reverse. The conservative sites were very quick to blame not only the agency surveillance overreach, but to include Obama in the blame as well. Well, when you are president, that’s not unfair, but Obama may not be the center of the problem, either.

    How did the foolish conservative media miss the fact that the NYT (and CBS) did cover it? Well, despite the ACLU making very dire statements about how big a deal it was, the news outlets certainly didn’t hammer it home for the next six weeks, did they? I eventually heard the story from a conservative site weeks later. Therefore, I don’t think it’s entirely unfair to say that the NYT didn’t cover it. They worded it in a way to keep it unexciting, then never came back to it. They’re not stupid. Bias doesn’t have to be dramatic.

    It’s why we call such things an Echo Chamber. The NYT probably covered it about as much as its audience wants. OTOH, once conservatives saw the words “Obama,” “illegal,” and “surveillance” in the same sentence, they wanted to hear more, prepared to blame him for all of it. In strict behaviorist thinking, looking at the rewards vs lack of rewards for certain journalistic behaviors, we get just about what we’d predict.

    But you are certainly correct that the technically correct information should be the foundation upon which all further “impressions” are founded. We had a name for people who used to do this sort of research. We used to call them “journalists.” I don’t know what we call people who engage in journalism without doing this.


    • To your last paragraph, the NYTs is offering a lesson in this with the whole Palin lawsuit huh? I’ve heard the Palin/Loughner connection repeated quite often without correction, and when I’ve corrected it IRL always heard that an actual connection is just a minor detail, the bigger point is about Republican rhetoric. The people I talked to probably believe that, but one has the potential to be defamatory and the other is protected opinion. To note: I’m not a lawyer and don’t know if Palin will win, but the first amendment lawyers I follow on Twitter and the Washington Post seem to agree lawsuit is not frivolous and has merit. Had the author of the op-ed not made such a specific claim, it would be much harder to make that case.


      • It becomes difficult to correct efficiently, because it takes a while to explain. Not complicated, but not brief. What would be the mechanism whereby a person is influenced to be violent without actual exposure to the rhetoric? I imagine it comes down to not believing that one’s own side says hateful and violent things, except _maybe_ under duress, in response to the terrible things the other side does. This evening a cousin of mine (Seven sisters grad) was complaining that an episode of Portlandia wasn’t funny because the mayor substituted a neo-nazi parade for the Gay Pride one because he wanted to Keep Portland Weird, and gays were too mainstream. She is incensed. I am tempted to comment that I disapprove more of the actual violence that is taking place in Portland.


      • I weep for the families of the brave men who stood up for a woman who was being harassed by an insane man on a train and paid for it with their lives.
        I need to watch some episodes of Portlandia.
        Incidentally, I have a niece whose ribs were cracked when she was trying to escort a veteran family through the protesting crowd at the airport. She got shoved down. Even the protesters got upset at the violence happening at their protests, and then the police got all crazy whack-em-with-a-stick every time they blocked the train tracks. So things have been quieter on the streets recently, while the internet continues to explode with the screams and wailing of protesters who want Trump dead. Some of the screamers are my friends. This dismays me deeply. My oldest son is distraught at all his liberal friends blowing up all their family and former friend relationships over politics. The poor sap loves and understands both sides and tries to interpret both sides to the other. He is not having much luck. (BTW, he loves Jonathon Haidt) I keep trying to tell people that just because you don’t know of something happening (ie. Muslims protesting against terrorism and pro-lifers helping poor people) that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Or, as Bethany is pointing out, not reported.
        I keep seeing people saying on facebook, “This (thing) is not being reported anywhere!” when I have seen the reports and wonder how they got the (thing) information if somebody didn’t report it. This is why I thought Bethany’s cogent observation was important. At least as important as Flying Snowmen.


      • Ooooh, I’ve definitely seen the “no one’s reporting on this!” thing as well. I think some of it may be the same phenomena as the “but they’ve never considered the facts!” assertions I occasionally see. There’s an idea sometimes that if you just reported on some issue/you saw the facts, everyone would immediately feel as you do. Since they don’t feel as you do, they therefore must not have seen the facts.


  6. Well, here’s an irony that I screwed up my previous comment because I was sure the attribution was just fine and hit “post.” Except I hadn’t read carefully, and it wasn’t set up properly.

    So laziness, and a certain arrogance that I knew exactly what I was doing, is probably part of the phenomenon you describe, and I just gave you an example of it.


  7. Here are some suggestions for this phenomenon: (Today is big word Saturday.)

    Premature Bloviation – talk at length, especially in an inflated or empty way
    Premature Exposition – archaic – the action of making public; exposure – as in exposing your ignorance or bias
    Premature Elucidation – to make lucid or clear; throw light upon; explain
    Premature Animadversion – an unfavorable or censorious comment:, the act of criticizing


  8. Pingback: Premature Expostulation | graph paper diaries

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