Columns / Discourse / February 12, 2014

23 Reasons why the Buzzfeedification of news is bad

With the Super Bowl over, America immediately started its traditional postgame analysis, namely, discussing which were the best commercials. This year there was no commercial that triggered quite as much discussion as Coca-Cola’s now-famous spot featuring Americans with a variety of backgrounds, including a gay couple and a woman in a hijab, while “America the Beautiful” was sung in several languages.

I have to say I was always of the belief that drinking Coca-Cola while singing “America the Beautiful” is a fairly unobjectionable act from a standpoint of patriotism, unless you are perhaps a dentist or an employee of Pepsi. But, as most of you are doubtless aware, there was an immediate backlash to against ad from quarters that do not like the idea of people with different skin colors speaking scary and unfamiliar languages being considered to be full Americans.

How big was this backlash though? The answer is that no one really knows.

This incident, as well as a variety in recent memory like it, first came to my attention the way it did to many people: Buzzfeed compiled a list of the stupidest and most vile social media posts on the topic it could find and published them.

Buzzfeed is certainly not the only website that does this, yet we still might call this style of presentation the Buzzfeed approach to news.

One concern is the way that this grants a platform for stupidity that would otherwise never see the light of day. Tweets that would otherwise have been read by perhaps a dozen people suddenly have an audience of thousands.

To suddenly equate this to a news story is to give them a legitimacy that they are in no way deserving. Perhaps this does serve some purpose as to alerting the world that such idiocy exists, but I doubt this is the best way to go about that.

Online comments on any news story are, as a rule, a terrible way to gauge what the average person thinks about something. The nature of the format ensures that only the most passionate on either side of the issues (along with a few grammar fanatics and makers of puns) will express themselves.

In the case of the Coke ad, the majority of Americans watched it and immediately went back to worrying over either how long the guacamole was going to last or the state of the Broncos defense. It was only a minority that became outraged.

Yet we don’t know the relative size of either group. If 99 percent of Americans were fine with the ad then there is no story at all. If it was only 60 percent then we as a nation have some very serious problems we need to discuss.

But we don’t know, and we likely never will. All we can conclude with any certainty is that there are people in this country who cannot handle having a Twitter account, which should not be revelatory for anyone who has ever been on Twitter.

Accurate statistical gathering, with lengthy data collection and rigorous mathematical calculation, is what is needed, but if such research is being conducted, it will doubtless be of little interest to anyone once it is published. Already, the Coca-Cola ad is yesterday’s news. Such is the ever-accelerating churn of the news cycle.

I do not wish to be too harsh on Buzzfeed, which is, after all, not primarily a news site, but I would just like to point out that the Buzzfeedification of news will come at a price.

Matt Barry
Matt Barry is a senior majoring in international relations and double minoring in economics and German. This is his third year working for TKS, having served previously as discourse editor. He has worked for such organizations as the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Premier Tourism Marketing and the Council on American Islamic Relations-Chicago, where his work appeared in such publications as Leisure Group Travel, Ski & Ride Club Guide and The Chicago Monitor. Matt has written his political opinion column, "The Voice of Reason," weekly for three years, which finished in first place at the 2012 Illinois College Press Association conference and was also recognized at the 2013 conference.

Tags:  America the Beautiful American media article Broncos Buzzfeed Coca-Cola coke commercial media news newsfeed research super bowl twitter

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1 Comment

Feb 14, 2014

This is spot on. I’ve seen mainstream news sites hold up tweets as news, and it makes me cringe.

The coke ad thing was especially stupid. It seemed like the anti-bigots were in an overwhelmin majority, but it’s hard to say for sure, because the bigots and the anti-bigots were all using the same hashtag. It was probably a completely artificial trend.

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