Social media controversy does not belong in the news

Scout Molder, Editor-in-Chief

Recently, a video showing a confrontation between a high school student sporting a “Make America Great Again” hat and a Native American veteran during a protest in Washington D.C. went viral. Clips of the video were shared through social media, but the story was quickly picked up by news media outlets including CNN, ABC, and Fox News.

Throughout Trump’s presidency, the term “fake news,” coined by the President himself, has often been used to criticize media bias. I am certainly not a fan of Trump or his use of “fake news” to describe sources that are critical of him— I am a firm believer in our right to freedom of the press, and I believe that journalists’ freedom to openly criticize people in positions of power is a key facet of our democracy. That being said, I do have issues with the direction many popular news outlets are going with their “news” coverage, and I think that the mass coverage of the recent controversial video is a great example as to why.

The purpose of journalism is to inform. When writing news, journalists are supposed to give a factual account of the events that took place in order to inform the public on issues that might affect them. The problem with many modern media outlets is that their goal seems to have shifted from informing the public to increasing clicks on their stories.

Rather than focusing their stories on the wide variety of protests that were taking place during the confrontation between the young man in the MAGA hat and the Native American man (such as the self-proclaimed black Hebrew protestors, the Native American protests or the pro-life march), they focused on what they knew would get the most views: a viral video that shows literally three minutes of the kid standing and the Native American man singing. How is one small, minutes long confrontation between two people exercising their rights to protest worthy of national coverage?

The short answer is that it’s not, or at least it shouldn’t be. Social media’s tendency to blow small events out of proportion is beginning to be reflected in what many used to consider the real news. I’m not saying that the event can’t be covered by mainstream media, but it’s at best a feature or opinion piece, not news.

When media sources overcover sensationalized events such as this one and call it news, they encourage divisiveness. When you cover small, relatively inconsequential events just because they blew up on social media, you distract from the real issues and events that are actually important. Furthermore, when you write a story about some kid in a MAGA hat without at least waiting for more context surrounding the issue, you validate the mob mentality that’s perpetuated by social media and viral news.

Real news outlets need to distance themselves from social media and instead focus on larger scale news. The job of the news is not to tell me what’s happening on social media, it’s to tell me about events happening in the real world that will actually affect me or those around me. If the media wants to maintain the respect that Trump and many others are attempting to take from it, then journalists need to stop caring about the clicks and start caring about the facts.