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, Cracked.com. 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?