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 :
I will never understand why people don’t just do a quick Google search before running their script pic.twitter.com/xShmqd60Re
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) June 27, 2017
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:
- 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.
- 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:
- For the issues studied (gun control, same-sex marriage, climate change), including moral-emotional language in your headline increased sharing by 20%
- 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.