Dishonest media

We all know American media is generally garbage. Aside from Al Jazeera America and foreign broadcasts, TV news media in the US is utterly useless. But it somehow gets worse online. Take this (good version of a) story about a mistake DiGiorno made involving a hashtag on Twitter:

This is just another cautionary tale for any companies on Twitter. Always, always think before you tweet.

DiGiorno Pizza’s account got involved with a trending topic on Twitter last night, which is not out of the ordinary for companies trying to promote their brand online. Unfortnately, the Twitter campaign they decided to jump on was one dedicated to domestic abuse victims sharing their heartbreaking and inspiring stories using the #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft hashtags.

Obviously, the person operating the account did not know the story behind the hashtag or else they never would have sent out this now deleted tweet that read: “#WhyIStayed You Had Pizza.”

The DiGiorno people then went ahead and personally responded to as many critical tweets as they could. It was a simple mistake anyone could have made, and it’s hard to imagine anyone being reasonably angry with the company at this point. They’ve apologized profusely and made it quite clear that it was a genuine mistake – this wasn’t even a case of a rogue employee trying to make some sort of crass joke.

This good version of the story, surprisingly from E! Online, is titled “DiGiorno Mistakenly Used the Domestic Abuse Twitter Campaign #WhyIStayed to Promote Their Pizza”. Take a look at the headlines from garbage ‘news’ outlets* like HuffPo, Bustle, and an ABC affiliate out of Chicago:

DiGiorno Interrupts Serious Conversation About Domestic Violence To Sell Pizza (HuffPo)

DiGiorno Pizza’s #WhyIStayed Tweet Is Not How You Respond To Domestic Violence (Bustle)

DiGiorno under fire after using #WhyIStayed hashtag to sell pizzas during Ray Rice scandal (ABC affiliate)

Each of these outlets is either ignoring or embracing intention; it’s tough to tell. If they’re simply ignoring the intention of DiGiorno, then they’re being dishonest and bad journalists by not telling the whole story. One imagines the editors at these places hate the saying “It’s the thought that counts.” They would reply to such a phrase, “No! It isn’t the thought! What matters is that I was given an awesome gift for my birthday!” If, on the other hand, they’re embracing intention (and this is where my money is at), then not only are they being wildly irresponsible, they’re actually outright lying. What I mean is, these ‘news’ outlets are heavily implying that DiGiorno intentionally jumped onto a hashtag bandwagon about domestic violence due to some overt, deliberate callousness towards DV victims. Of course, DiGiorno absolutely did no such thing. Yet, in order to get people to click on their garbage sites and articles, they are trying to lead the reader into believing that DiGiorno is some sort of evil company willing to exploit a serious issue in order to sell their product.

*I’m not saying E! Online isn’t a garbage news outlet. I don’t know either way since I don’t read it; it was merely one of the first search results I found with an honest title.

The misleading media

In a history course I’m taking this semester, we got talking about the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests today. It was a good talk, but I couldn’t resist raising a point of irritation I’ve always had about the media coverage of the event. It has to do with this iconic image:

Whenever I’ve seen the video of that moment, it has always stopped short and faded away. I used to quite naturally assume, “Why, he must get crushed. They’d never show something so graphic.” But then things like Wikipedia and YouTube cropped up. This provided me the perfect opportunity to find out the details.

I started with Wikipedia. I didn’t particularly want to see the guy get crushed, but I wanted to know more about what the protests were all about, what happened to the guy’s family, who he was, etc, etc. To my surprise, I read this:

As the tank driver attempted to go around him, the “Tank Man” moved into the tank’s path. He continued to stand defiantly in front of the tanks for some time, then climbed up onto the turret of the lead tank to speak to the soldiers inside. After returning to his position in front of the tanks, the man was pulled aside by a group of people.

…huh? Really? Had the media been lying to me all this time? I thought the man had been crushed by the tank. Why the fuck else wouldn’t they show the whole video? Ever? Does the media really think the moment needs to be augmented? Wasn’t the man courageous as hell regardless of whether or not he was crushed?

To my surprise, a number of other students also noted the same point. They had always grown up assuming the man had been run over by the tank. Given the basic dishonesty of the media here, it’s a rational assumption. Furthermore, the protesters did face violence, resulting in likely thousands of deaths. Some even were crushed by tanks.

Just not this guy.

Beware What You Read

It’s quite common for the media to exaggerate claims or to use the tactic of fear to get readers or viewers. At the risk of contradicting my last post on anecdotal evidence, just watch an episode of Dateline. Your mattress may be ridden with bed bugs!

So it comes as little surprise that Yahoo! has an article up noting that triclosan (a pesticide) may do more harm than good.

There are concerns that triclosan may contribute to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It’s also present in human bodies and breast milk, as well as in streams. The Environmental Working Group says triclosan has been linked to developmental defects, liver toxicity, and cancer in lab studies. It also may affect thyroid and other hormones that are crucial to normal development.

These “concerns” are rather fabricated. It may very well be true that triclosan has horrible, apocalyptic effects that will stunt your growth and give you cancer. But it’s pretty unlikely. And the honest results of the study bear this out.

Further research is clearly needed to assess whether the emergence of antibiotic resistance in the community setting is associated with the growing use of soaps containing triclosan.

The reason for this is that the study had so many variables in it, it’s basically pretty tough make a definitive determination one way or the other. For starters, there is no known baseline resistance for triclosan. That is, no one knows how much triclosan resistance is naturally in bacteria populations and how much is there due to the increased use of triclosan. Then there’s the fact that the studies didn’t bear out higher rates of resistance in these ‘natural’ settings. If you control the environment and allow little to no contaminantion, yes, facing specific bacteria against a pesticide may very well result in an increased resistance. There are no guarantees in evolution, but the effects of natural selection can be a bit exaggerated in the lab. One possible reason no resistance was found in the uncontrolled environments is that any added genetic mutations are too specific and costly to do well.

So essentially, it is inconclusive whether there is any added danger to using soaps with triclosan in them. Bacteria is unlikely to become resistant outside a lab, especially when there is more than one species at a time vying for survival against this pesticide. Again, there are no guarantees in evolution, but I’m betting your livers and thyroids are safe.

But to be fair, the Yahoo! article is initially focused on pointing out that anti-bacterial soaps are no more effective at hand hygiene than traditional soap and water. This is an accurate description of the findings of this study. I just hope Yahoo! is more careful next time when they want to elicit fear from readers. I won’t hold my breath.