How To Create A Moral Panic: Ask A Question, Get Opinions, But Ignore Facts

from the neat-tricks-for-journalists dept

Well, here’s a fun one. Despite study after study after study after study after study, all showing that various text messaging and “txt speak” hasn’t harmed kids reading or writing skills in the slightest (and, in fact, kids today read and write significantly more than in the past), how would you go about creating a moral panic around the idea that the internet is harming kids language skills?

It’s easy.

  1. Ignore all the evidence.
  2. Send out a survey to parents asking them if they think the internet harms the ability of kids to write well
  3. Report the results of that survey of what parents think without actually backing it up with facts or evidence.

Bingo. You’re done. Forget push polling, this is push reporting. The reporting itself is designed to plant the idea that kids are having trouble writing well, due to the internet, despite a near total lack of supporting evidence (and plenty of evidence to the contrary).

Filed Under: , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “How To Create A Moral Panic: Ask A Question, Get Opinions, But Ignore Facts”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Just going off of what my high school daughter tells me, texting does impact some kids writing in that they use chat speak in their normal writing. She is the chief editor of the schools literary magazine and has seen a lot of submissions that have poor grammar and spelling similar to what you would see in a text message.

Ryan says:

Re: Re:

In my school days, I saw this a lot as well. I also saw a lot of writing with poor grammar and spelling that was not similar to what you would see in a text message. The fact is, there will always be poor writers whether the internet exists or not. Only an official study can conclude whether there is more of that with increased texting usage, and as Mike has referenced that is not the case.

Here's a tip says:

Re: Re:

If the grammar and spelling are consistent with other examples of txt, it isn’t poor, it’s just different. Language evolves, even written language.

No one remembers, but there didn’t use to be words like nite or lite or thru. The Chicago Tribune decided it wanted to simplify spelling and there you go. Whole new words along with a new push to make English make more sense.

Purists still fight against the use of such words in formal writing, but when you get down to brass tacks, who writes formally these days?

If the kids use the words and sentence structures consistently, that’s just language evolving, coming into contact with other languages. Russian doesn’t have prepositions for God’s sake. OMG is a minor offense in comparison.

hegemon13 says:

Re: Re: Re:

“If the grammar and spelling are consistent with other examples of txt, it isn’t poor, it’s just different. Language evolves, even written language.”

Yes, it is poor writing when submitted as formal writing. Language does evolve, and that is fine. For example, it is now often acceptable, even in formal writing, to end a sentence with a preposition. However, even with that evolution, there are accepted rules and standards for formal writing. What is okay differs between informal and formal contexts, or even between different formal contexts. It is the writer’s job to ensure that they are writing appropriately for their audience. Cryptic, ambiguous, vowel-less abbreviations of words have no place in formal writing today, and it is unlikely they ever will.

Anon says:

Re: Re:

But that doesn’t mean the text messaging is in fact what harmed their spelling and grammar. It may simply be that these kids have not learned proper spelling and grammar, but their exposure to text messaging has shown them one way in which they can communicate. Essentially, the case may be that these kids are just as capable of learning as they would have been without text messaging, but the existence of text speak gives them an faster and easier way to communicate without taking the time to learn properly. Be careful not to chalk up to “the evils of texting” what may simply be apathy, a desire to be cool, laziness, or frustration with rules of spelling and grammar (because some kids will have trouble with those, regardless of texting), or another sort of motivation to avoid learning the real thing.

hegemon13 says:

Re: Re:

I think any editor will tell you that they have always received many submissions with improper grammar and spelling. That’s one easy way to filter out the crap. Using text-speak in formal writing is unprofessional, but it is no less professional than using slang or colloquialisms, which bad writers have been doing for ages. Perhaps we should do something about talking. All this informal conversation is negatively affecting people’s ability to write with proper grammar and without slang.

Alan Gerow (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Those people probably wouldn’t have written well anyway. There were plenty of horrible spellers and grammar serial-killers in my high school, at a time when Zack Morris was sporting the Brick Cell Phone. Some people can’t do it (my fiance has a hard time spelling words … she’s super bright, just that spelling isn’t her strong point … just as remembering names & dates isn’t mine), and some people just aren’t interested. It’s always been that way, and it always will.

Just because some people write in txt speak, does not mean that they would have had good spelling and grammar otherwise. That’s would be a false assumption.

So, instead of seeing how the kids speak these days as an isolated world … compare the levels of spelling & grammatical mistakes between all generations. I’m willing to put money on the fact that they will be comparable.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re: Re:

Some people can’t do it (my fiance has a hard time spelling words … she’s super bright, just that spelling isn’t her strong point … just as remembering names & dates isn’t mine), and some people just aren’t interested. It’s always been that way, and it always will.

I was always taught that if you didn’t know how to spell a word, you looked it up in the dictionary. Of course, that’s too much trouble for kids today.

I often use spellcheck if I’m not sure how to spell something.

foshizol says:

Re: Maybe there's a lot of retards at your Daughter HS

Everyone here has at least two ways of speaking. You don’t talk at work the same way you talk to your friends. We speak formally at work and use slang or even curse around our friends.

It’s the same way with text speak. You know you have to write formally for a paper in English class but when texting on a phone you need to keep it short and sweet. So you use what really amounts to the old short hand they used to teach in secretarial school.

I found that people that can’t seem to go from speaking slang to a formal “Work Speak” tend to be lower in IQ. Therefore people that can’t go from text speak to formal writing must be as the kids say these days a “Dumb ass”.

Michael Wells says:

Wrong Point

I do not know whether texting hurts or helps kids reading and writing. I do know when asking my young cousin why she texts and does not call; that her response was this: when she is in a situation like class, a movie, or somewhere a live call would be inappropriate or rude. Well I got news for her; so is texting in these settings rude. I am sick and tired of eating dinner with people who are texting non stop through out. I know I am not the only one who feels this way either. Basically texting is real simple; 99% of the time it is done in environment when you are not supposed to have a phone to make calls anyway. I have banned my employees from having using their cell phones at work; and that is one of the reasons.

Ryan says:

Re: Wrong Point

I would agree that texting nonstop during a dinner is rude, as is texting during a movie (only because the phone’s light distracts your fellow moviegoers), but I fail to see how texing during class is rude; rather, I have found professors that insist on students putting down everything to be quite rude. The teacher is being paid by the students for the students’ benefit–it is the teacher that should not waste the students’ time, not the other way around.

In any case, I do not see how you arrived at that 99% number…I would venture to guess that you just pulled it out of your ass. Certainly, 99% of my texts do not occur in inappropriate situations, nor have I ever known somebody that did. And to flat out ban cell phones at work…well, I don’t know what the job is, but I probably would not work there.

Michael Wells says:

Re: Re: Wrong Point

99% was meant as a generalization; not an accurate study or poll. If you were a little busier trying to find a word that is not synonymous with your intellect (a**); you might figure out a simple grammatical device. As far as the teachers and in my case bosses go; we are the ones in charge and we are the ones who make the rules. And no I am sure you would not work for me; especially if you use profanity. Grow up young man!! I do understand if you are taking notes during a class; but that does not mean when you are participating in an activity when another human being; that you should texting non stop. That is bad manners.

Victor says:

Re: Re: Wrong Point

“The teacher is being paid by the students for the students’ benefit–it is the teacher that should not waste the students’ time, not the other way around.”

Exactly the teacher is being paid to benefit ALL the students in the class. Do you know how irritating it is when you are an auditory learner trying to listen to a teacher and all you can hear are the clicks from someones phone as they text away on it under their desk? I, for one, am glad when teachers kick someone out of lecture for texting, and ban phones.

Red says:

Re: Wrong Point

How do you distinguish texting from taking notes? I use twitter to take quick notes and share them with my followers all the time. It’s a great way to quickly record details and share them instantly with those who want/care to know. Just because you see someone tapping out a message on a keyboard doesn’t mean you should assume they aren’t paying attention to what your saying or what _you_ want them to pay attention to…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Wrong Point

I feel the exact same way about eating dinner and texting. I sat at a table next to a family whose daughter had the volume up on her ringer, so every time she got a message (in a long conversation btw), we got to have our dinner interrupted by her phone.
It’s times like that that remind me I am not a good candidate for a conceal and carry license.

I disagree with banning cell phones in the work place depending on the work. Certainly not for personal use in the office, but some people need them for server alerts, customer contact etc. If you work retail, leave the phone in your pocket.

Michael Wells says:

Re: Re: Wrong Point

Where I work we have 12 incoming lines and there is no business purpose for my employees to have cell phones; unless they are on the road delivering or making sales calls. In those cases that is fine. But when they are inside, no cells. We have twelve lines; if someone needs to get a hold of them then they call the work number. Unless of course it is not something important enough to disturb their work.

Alan Gerow (user link) says:

Re: Re:

One word: racist.

Of the dozen white folk dominated subcultures with their own slang (rockabilly, valley girl, southern, etc), you pick the derogatory term popularized by California politicians in the mid-90s as your “one word” example.

Your points of view in general are several diminished in reliability, because your “one word” says a lot more about you than it does the slang grouping you were referring to.

Michael Wells says:

Re: Re: Re:2 You're an idiot, and evidently a bigot.

Alan I respectfully disagree. Harold is making a joke, actually bordering on satire. You are the only one that thought he had singled out a race. According to your exact explanation; it would have been ok to single a “white culture”? That is the problem with this country today; we are all sitting around hoping to be the offended victim. STOP!!! I am from KY and I expect bad jokes about dating my sister, or the relationship between me and my pets; the point is I do not take it personally. It is joke!!!

Alan Gerow (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 You're an idiot, and evidently a bigot.

It’s this kind of pervasive racism that’s the problem. I read between some lines and decided to make a point. And I don’t see Harold’s comment as a joke, because he doesn’t usually make them. Unless his entire shtick and EVERYTHING he writes is a joke or satire. Which would explain a lot.

Satire doesn’t work on the Internet because satire relies on tone and delivery. He put down three words, and I inferred a bunch from those three words in the context of the original post.

If you could explain to me how what he said is a joke or satire, I will concede your point. But I don’t see it.

Perhaps his comments have been irritating me and I’m seeing things that aren’t there in order to poke at him. But I still stand by my original interpretation until I see a compelling reason to think otherwise.

I’m from Virginia, Richmond to be exact, where ~64% of the population is black. I’m white, so I was a minority in my hometown. I see the pervasive racism because I know how it affected friends of mine in high school and their perceptions. Same with sexism with my large number of female friends. The only direct parallels I can draw on are my own experiences with being discriminated against and physically attacked by being white in a predominantly black area.

The only way to heal from the past and move forward isn’t to ignore racism and pass laws to make people be tolerant, but try to stop the pervasive racism. Had someone read his comment, with its lack of clear satire, it would portray much more than you claim, reaffirming any stereotypes that black people can’t speak proper English. Which is where the term “ebonics” came from. If you remember the Oakland school district’s attempt to teach “ebonics” as a foreign language, it becomes very evident.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re: Re:4 You're an idiot, and evidently a bigot.

Had someone read his comment, with its lack of clear satire, it would portray much more than you claim, reaffirming any stereotypes that black people can’t speak proper English.

This will sound racist no matter how I write it, so here goes…

Sometimes stereotypes are true. Like the gay guy I met a few months ago who spoke with a noticeable lisp and who almost literally pranced around.

“Ebonics” is associated with black people because that form of slang is supposedly based on speech patterns that developed over the years. Where did it originally come from? From slaves who were never taught to speak proper English. So whether you want to call it “Ebonics”, or “hip hop slang”, it’s still mangled English that originated from uneducated black slaves.

Sure, some white people use it. Why? They’re copying the black people who use it.

If only I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard, “Lemme ax you sumptin…”

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Incorrect. I didn’t single out hiphop culture. That is your words, not mine.

Slang is slang, whatever. That isn’t the point. The point is that even when pushed, many people in those communities are unable to communicate, write, or read standard english. It isn’t a question of slang, it’s a question of not knowing the language.

Australians use more slang than almost any group of english speakers in the world. But put on the spot, they can all speak, read, and write normal, standard english.

More important, and this is only where “hip hop culture” (is there such a thing?) causes a problem is when today’s youth (from all groups) emulates the lifestyle and the speech, lowering their own language skills to be “down widda hood”. Illiteracy is a real issue that can hold people back. The inability to communicate clearly is a problem that can cost jobs and a future.

As mentioned by BTR1701, Ebonics is the politically correct non-derogatory term accepted without issue. The only racism is in your own mind on that one.

Alan Gerow (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Ebonics is a term referring to language that comes of the hip-hop culture, which is dominated by black people. And the fact that they speak in slang informally, you infer that they can’t speak proper English ever, which is a logical fallacy. And you single out one set of slang, which typically refers to a minority, again as your example of penultimate language slaughter, when there are many other examples don’t rely on using a term that singles out a race.

Ebonics is a politically correct (because the politicians said so) but socially incorrect word, because it ascribes that black people don’t speak English. I mean “EBONics” … “EBONY” … the racist message is built into the word itself. Not to mention the socially incorrectness of “African-American” (which you didn’t use, but it illustrates the point that just because “European-American” politicians say they’re being correct doesn’t make it so).

So, I guess what you’re implying by the Australian comment:
1. The black people that speak slang can’t use proper English
& 2. All Australians speak slang and can use proper English
It’s great that everybody fits into these nice categories, with no exceptions, isn’t it?

The fact that you literally used the phrase “all Australians” without even acknowledging the possibility of exception shows your categorization of the world where all people fit into discreet groups that you can ascribe attributes to. That’s how stereotypes & -isms grow, by taking generalizations and applying them to everyone of a social group or particular members with disregard for the individual. Racism/sexism/xenophobia will only end when people stop doing that, and judge each person on his/her own merits.

“Ebonics” is a word that refers to slang used by a particular racial group, and not a cultural one (as white people in the hip hop community use “ebonics”, too). Otherwise, it wouldn’t have a synonym for “black” as the root word. Nobody has ever referred to slang used by white people as “ivorics”. If it’s slang used by a white person, it gets the name of the subculture group that uses it … if it’s slang used by black people, it’s “ebonics” or “black language” if you want to defined the root & suffix meanings. That’s why I use the term hip-hop community, because that’s the subculture group that uses it.

I guess what got to me was your use of a word that refers to a race, and not a culture.

Alan Gerow (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Ebonics

Fair enough. I mainly heard it used by white politicians, though the controversy surrounding the Oakland school district’s attempt to teach it as a foreign language was precisely because the black communities in the area DID consider it racist, derogatory, and insulting. I happened to have been in the area for a couple days during it all, I can tell you most people were not happy about it.

Though, politicians are politicians and don’t usually think about what they’re saying.

So, I accept that SOME black politicians did not find it offensive, but I stand by the idea that a majority of the people in the area did. And even people in Virginia weren’t too happy about the implications of what the Oakland school board was saying and trying to do.

Alan Gerow (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:

(I’m assuming you were referring to me, but it appears your comment is aligned to Harold’s, so excuse me if you were replying to him)

If you can explain how that’s ironic, with it being put on the Internet without tone & delivery to indicate it’s irony, then I will concede it was a joke and not serious. Irony needs a cue, and that didn’t have one.

Anonymous Coward says:

ban cell phones at work

there are many jobs and some jobs “banning” a cellphone wouldn’t be that much of an issue. e.g. a small store with 2 check out people who always work with customers and have no personal time

but then there are jobs where a cellphone is so important, that your work pays for a $400 black-berry and let you use it as your personal phone also.

Jesse says:

If there is any problem with grammar it is because we are not taught well enough in schools. The only reason I know anything about English grammar is because I learned French for 12 years.

Then there is that whole problem of, “who cares?” Languages change and evolve over time. It’s not like there is one static way of doing things;

Syn says:

Kids Today

Well if you think your kids are not learning in school think again. besides learning to deal with teachers who have there own agenda and force kids to listen to propaganda speak all day. kids have done what kids have done forever, they found there own way to communicate. and believe me you have to be a smart kid to do this. one handed with out looking at your key pad. these kids are bright to say the least. as for when and where it should be done or not be done, well society dictates what people will do and what is accepted and we live in a gotta have it right now world, in case you have been stuck in your own child hood wishing things would never change. kids today live in the now and call it as it comes. life is ever changing. keep up or drop out people. I have always felt, if you can’t see the screen from where you chose to sit, you don’t demand they rebuild the theater so you can see better… right? or do you? I don’t text, Ichose not to. I like to hear peoples voice’s but thats me I always find a better seat to view the big screen of life from. come on people join me in the 21st centry life is to short to waist time on this subject.

lulz says:

While there are compelling arguments from both sides of the issue, they are all theory and hearsay. So what if you are X profession and have Y experience. It only counts if it has been proven.

^like the study after study after study up there which solidifies the point that [i]texting doesn’t hurt your grammar, stop saying it does[/i].

greg says:

Classic sociological response pattern:

1. Be alerted and concerned about a new technology that’s introduced in society
2. Question health risks and childhood safety because society is changing
3. Spread panic as long as possible until people get used to it

Remember how cell phones were all going to give us brain cancer in the early 90s? Same thing. Remember how MySpace was going to be the master tool for sexual predators? Same thing.

trollificus says:

Moral panics are ALWAYS...

…irrational and ill-motivated.

And saying it’s “…for the chiiiildren” is despicably misleading.

Remember when we hade to outlaw marijuana because it’s a pernicious drug that has the horrible side effect of causing otherwise law-abiding young people to be thrown in jail?

That kind of thing.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...