What’s the point of having a blog, if you don’t use it as a soap box from time to time. Today’s gripe: Misleading Headlines and Irresponsible Content Sharing.
Here is Where it Starts
I saw and heard this headline (or some variant of it) about 50 times in the last couple days:
“Copenhagen Zoo Brutally Murdered A Giraffe In Front Of A Bunch Of Kids And Then Fed It To The Lions.”
That’s how UPROXX told the story – and that’s an irresponsible headline. There were a few others bouncing Twitter and Facebook that were nearly as bad, but this one is the worst.
I don’t want to focus too much on Uproxx. I like them. They just happened to have the worst headline of the day.
Here is the Problem
If you don’t take the time to actually read about the issue, you probably think the zoo is terrible and really, really dumb for doing something like this. That’s what I thought. I imagined a school field trip going to the zoo to learn about the animals, only to be lead into a pen where a Giraffe was “brutally murdered” by a rogue veterinary technician with a giant, giraffe-sized scalpel, who proceeded to chop the poor beast to bits and throw his still beating heart to the lions. The children’s mouths agape, their innocence lost, and their future psychiatrists salivating and tapping their fingertips together like Charles Montgomery Burns.
But that’s not what happened at all. If you read a real article on the story, you’ll quickly discover how misleading and irresponsible that headline is. In reality, The giraffe wasn’t brutally murdered in front of kids, it was clinically autopsied in front of a mixed age crowd. And the people who were there, knew what was happening and what was going to happen – they came to see exactly that. And then the animal was fed to the lions because: NATURE.
The Uproxx article says that the zoo “euthanized a troublesome giraffe,” which could lead you to believe they killed it because it wasn’t behaving properly, because it was being “troublesome”: perhaps fighting with other giraffes or it chewed up your running shoes, or it pooped behind the couch. The truth is, they killed it to preserve the genetic diversity in their breeding population. It’s a fairly common thing and you can read some more about why it was the right thing to do here. It’s science – and this poor guy didn’t make the cut.
You can feel how you want about it, and I applaud your compassion for animals. You can certainly question the concept of zoos entirely and how they treat their animals, and you should. But let’s not demonize this zoo for doing what they, and the The European Association of Zoos has deemed to be the proper course of action, for the betterment of the giraffe species.
Here is the Important Part
Save the hate male, folks. This post isn’t really about the giraffe. It’s about the headline. And more than that, it’s about how you (yes YOU!) interact with that headline. You probably clicked it. And then, you probably shared it. There were 100 more responsibly written headlines out there floating around the internet, but we all bought into the sensationalist headline tactics of this one, and and we gleefully clicked. We didn’t care about the real story. The real story was about science and genetics, and difficult decisions that zoos have to make and blah blah booooooring. The real story was less entertaining, less brutal, less salacious, less finger-pointing, look-at-the-bad-guy, how-dare-they, OMG, those-bastards. The real story was far less “look at me, I care about animals”, less share-worthy.
The important part, the REALLY IMPORTANT part is to remember:
Don’t let the headlines make up your mind about things for you.
Headlines are written to be attention grabbing, and because of that, they can sometimes be a little misleading. Sometimes it’s innocent. Sometimes their written by unscrupulous editors and marketers who just want your clicks, and they can be downright deplorable. They sensationalize, they make you click, they get their advertising dollars, and they don’t care what you actually believe is true.
They PRETEND to be news.
We live in a glut of content – practically anyone can publish, and it can be hard to tell the truth from the fiction from the sensationalism. The wheat from the muck.
I challenge you to be more skeptical, and to take ownership over your knowledge.
Here is What You Can Do
- Read the fucking article. And if you don’t have time, don’t mindlessly share it.
- If it’s good, share it!
- If the site you’re reading isn’t a legitimate news source, take that into consideration. Daily Currant, for example is “satire,” and that means it’s not real. But it tries to look real so that people share their articles. No, the guy responsible for the Olympic Ring lighting failure was not killed by Putin.
- If it sounds fishy, cross reference it by reading another article.
- If in doubt, check Snopes. They want to help you determine what’s real and what’s bullshit. And there’s a lot of bullshit out there.
Listen, we all get tricked sometimes, or sucked into the hype of a titillating headline. I know, I do too, and I’m as skeptical as they come. And sometimes, even the titles of the posts on my blog are manufactured to get you to click, that’s just the way the internet publishing game works. All I’m saying is, content creators need to be responsible for the media they create, and content consumers need to be responsible about the ways in which they consume and share media.
It’s my sincere hope that a little bit of Intellectual Initiative can be as viral as a sneezing panda video, or an article about a brutally slaughtered giraffe.