Via Stephen “redsteeze” Miller, who’s as surprised as I am at the source of this truthbomb.
Finally someone in media is calling out the perpetual outrage machine that is the primary engine of online media and that person is *squints* … Bill Maher
— Stephen Miller (@redsteeze) March 3, 2018
The tiniest brain fart about a supposed controversy can echo across the land thanks to social media, 24-hour news, and our self-segregating ideological echo chambers. Some rando, usually eager to show off his skills in the Woke Olympics, will stumble across a piece of cultural detritus that seems to him “problematic.” He tweets about it and a few like-minded people with larger followings pick it up, broadcasting their own righteous outrage. Niche journalists in advocacy media, forever on the lookout for the next sin against the cause, pick it up from there. The outrage may be over something vanishingly trivial but the quest for content online is neverending, and nothing’s easier content-wise than the Outrage Du Jour that flatters the audience’s political prejudices. (Except for “Walking Dead” grumble threads.) Meanwhile some of those niche reporters are being followed by mainstream media reporters, who will themselves write something up about the controversy if they sense a critical mass of buzz about it within their own social-media hive. The theory being that if everyone you follow on Twitter is chattering about something, errrr, it must mean that the public at large is interested too.
The right has its own version of this food chain, needless to say, and blogs like this one are part of it. Just substitute Fox News and conservative talk radio for the mainstream media in the final step.
Maher zeroes in on the idiocy over Jennifer Lawrence’s dress this past week but the amplification of nontroversies into controversies recurs daily. Three years ago, a few alt-righters grousing about seeing a black actor as a Stormtrooper in the trailer for “The Force Awakens” somehow developed into a media hot-take mill that lasted days. “People are talking!” Well, a few people. Very few. But when you operate in a medium that never goes off the air and no longer faces the hard choices imposed by limited column inches, with readers and viewers checking in morning, noon, and night for new material, every moronic fake controversy is a godsend. What’s essentially a parlor game — “I spy something problematic with Taylor Swift’s hair” — becomes, ahem, news.
All I’d add to Maher’s spiel is that echo-chamber amplification of nontroversies also happens within stories that really are news. Russiagate, for instance, is as newsy as news gets: The president is in political peril from it, his friends and family are at dire risk of being indicted, the integrity of the last election could conceivably be called into question. But even there the most minor developments are greeted by liberals and their big-media allies breathlessly, with people scrambling to overinterpret mundane happenings. (There are right-wing versions of this too.) It’s so bad, in fact, that some reporters have begun publicly scolding anti-Trumpers in their own industry and elsewhere to chill the fark out already. Russian bots are not, in fact, behind every bad thing that happens to America and/or the left. Robert Mueller asking Trump associates basic questions about what the White House knew does not, in fact, mean that a blockbuster revelation is in the offing. But the cycle recurs here as elsewhere: Like-minded people seize on something trivial that flatters their preexisting beliefs, the balloon inflates on social media, reporters spot the balloon and deduce that this is Real News (or, if it isn’t, that a large number of people would be interested in reading something about it anyway), and off we go. I’m guilty of it sometimes too. It’s the nature of the online beast, alas.