Techno-Panic Reporting: The Media Deserves No Mercy

from the laughing-at-not-with dept

I’ve always felt that the maxim “history repeats” is a little oversimplified. There are countless patterns and cycles in history, but they are simply elements of a whole that is always changing. When history repeats, it’s rarely identical.

That might be what makes the techno-panic mentality so astonishing: it’s one of the few examples where nothing seems to change. Today’s anti-videogame rhetoric is no different from the objections raised to telephones, movie theatres and chess. A 1972 documentary on Future Shock is almost indistinguishable from Sherry Turke’s latest book.

Now, people can believe what they want about technology, misguided as their views might be. But in one group, it is unforgivable: the news media. It’s tough to find any large news organizations that don’t turn technology into the star villain of every story in which it is even tangentially related–and they aren’t afraid to misrepresent the facts to do so. This highlights several broad cultural problems that plague modern journalism: lazy reporting, pandering to viewers instead of educating them, and an internal techno-panic attitude among journalists and publishers who are failing to adapt to a changing marketplace.

All that brings me around to one of my favorite websites, I wrote about them not long ago, but boy have they been hitting the nail on the head a lot recently. They just took on some examples of the media exaggerating or flat-out inventing techno-panic stories, and their ruthless analysis is both spot-on and hilarious (and a tad profane). Some highlights:

On some trash-texting between rival football players that made the news rounds in Austin:

In real life, if some high school dudes yell, “I’m gonna tear you limb from fucking limb” across a football field, the ref probably wouldn’t throw a flag. Hell, the ref probably wouldn’t hear it over all the grown-ups in the stands yelling equally violent threats at the opposing players. That kind of thing is said verbally, from one high school male to another, while in striking distance, on a weekly basis. But take those exact same words and transmit them electronically via a new technology, and it’s a goddamned crisis.

We could also write that one off as a slow news day, but two months later, they ran a fucking follow-up report. Why? Because “cyberbullying” is everywhere! “Hide your children, lest the demonic spirit of cyberbullying ingest their innocent, untarnished souls! What is it about these new devil devices that makes our teenage boys act… exactly the way they did before?

On a Telegraph article titled War Games Fanatic Matthew Pyke Killed by Gamer from Germany:

If you Google his name, you’ll find dozens upon dozens of news websites proclaiming that this was a gamer feud gone wrong. A violent game, to boot! He was a “war games” fanatic! Something must be done!

Oh, hey, look at this. It turned out that the killer was obsessed with Pyke’s girlfriend. But because the three met on Pyke’s gaming forum, every goddamn headline about the case was, “GAMING GAMER KILLS GAMER FROM GAMING GAMELAND GAME GAME!”

On a dispute that ended in murder and, according to the headlines, started on Twitter (but in fact started in person):

Twitter is not simply a means by which people communicate, the same as they would at a bar or by postcards. No, it’s new and scary and must have some alien ability to influence men’s minds to make them do what they otherwise would not. Right?

Do I even need to point out that if I call your house and tell you you’re a worthless cocksucker and threaten your life, that I’m the asshole here? Not my fucking phone?

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Comments on “Techno-Panic Reporting: The Media Deserves No Mercy”

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Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Is this a Techdirt record?

Most F-bombs in a single post?


And I particularly like that one. Having said all that, you should hear what’s going around the sporting newsbands after the whole Jay Cutler injured/not-injured curfluffle, with active and retired players tweeting in support or disdain of him, and the effects of those social media expressions on the overall labor negotiations between owners and players.

Pretty interesting that Twitter might save football by showing a divided players union….

lostalaska (profile) says:

It drives me crazy watching the lazy coverage

I’m not that heavy into politics and finance, but I have been working in IT for the last 15 years and keep up to date with all the tech news I can via RSS feeds and a few aggregators. So when I watch news programs where they talk about technology and are so incredibly wrong in what they’re reporting it makes me wonder if they actually do any kind of research for any of their reports.

The majority of the news nowadays just seems to pander to the lowest common denominator, which means at best it’s mediocre and at it’s worst it’s just the mouthpiece for whatever organization sent them the “hot tip” of the day. Then they just parrot the talking points without actually looking into any of it. Lazy reporting and a lack of integrity is whats killing the “big” news media IMHO, and the whole head in the sand about how the market is changing.. but that’s like beating a dead horse on this site.

MissingFrame says:

This is why humans don't live forever.

Once you get past 40, things from the future start getting really scary. Most news consumers love to tune into the latest fear of the day and there’s a huge amount of Viagra and Cialis advertising dollars to be had!

Fortunately the world moves on and the younger folk can thank our gods for limited lifespans … until it’s THEIR turn.

I’m 44.

teka (profile) says:



On one hand we have news organizations inflating stories or even creating them out of whole cloth. On the other, we have a reasonable and restrained information/opinion service (techdirt) that highlights the real and often glaring flaws in many systems.

A news organization printing “Teen Shoots Self Due To Video Game” because the unfortunate young person happened to be in a house that held a game console is bad “journalism”

techdirt highlighting the “innovation tax” created by patent thickets or some new lawsuit based on a broad patent that claims to cover all forms of pressing buttons on a keyboard(for example) is simply unfortunate truth.

Not an electronic Rodent says:

Re: This is why humans don't live forever.

Telomere extension, nanotech implants that generate stem cells and repair damage, etc. Fun times be coming soon to a pharmacist or doctors office near you.

Except if certain people have their way it’ll only apply to people rich enough to afford the license fees on the tech and you’ll spend eternity in a hospital ward after having been “bricked” by the nano-tech company for having introduced some “unlicensed” nanites that provide the “anti-hangover” fix software permanantly because they only sell that as a 1-time self-destroying upgrade. You don’t expect to own yourself anymore do you?

MissingFrame says:

This is why humans don't live forever.

When humans live forever I fear society halts at that point. Hopefully we get over a few major hangups by then.

Fortunately, Hephaestus, I’ve avoided many of the nasty statistics by keeping a healthy lifestyle. In that 50/50, what percentage are smokers who don’t exercise …

BTW, informal survey, to test my generalizations: How many people over 50 do you know that text-message daily?

Ben Finney says:

History repeats in different ways

> I’ve always felt that the maxim “history repeats” is a little oversimplified.? When history repeats, it’s rarely identical.

Yes. Hegel’s oversimplification was noted by Karl Marx, who pointed out the difference between repetitions:

Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as a tragedy, the second time as farce.

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