Once, a couple years ago, I was visiting my parents for some holiday and overheard a strange news story blaring from the television. “Hand sanitizer doesn’t work,” a newscaster claimed. “A new study shows that the effects of hand sanitizer only last for 10 seconds.”
I could see the reflection of the television in the living room mirror displaying a close-up of hands rubbing together, applying hand sanitizer. The news people on TV interviewed passersby in New York City. “Did you know this about hand sanitizer?” they asked. Red lettering and exclamation points smothered the screen.
Oh, no. I chuckled to myself, shaking my head at the idiocy of the media.
The next day, I was eating dinner with my family and my mother brought up the newscast. “Did you know hand sanitizer only works for 10 seconds?” she asked with an alarmed look in her eyes.
“Yes,” I responded. “I did overhear that newscast last night.” I told my mother my thoughts on the subject: How long do you normally take to wash your hands? Do you wash them for hours, a few seconds, or a few minutes? Did you think hand sanitizer was similarly effective as hand washing? How long do you want hand sanitizer to last? Hours? Did you think it would sit on your hand for an hour and ward off any and all pathogens, like it was some sort of sunscreen for viruses and bacteria?
Although the information was important to share, the way it was presented was over-sensationalized and extreme, to the point that my own mother was very alarmed, as if the news had told her the plague was coming back, rather than that hand sanitizer wasn’t as effective as we had originally thought.
Click-bait headlines work in the same way online. Certain types of inflections in speeches get us riled up for no reason. They cloud our logical thinking and reasoning, playing to our emotions. If someone tells you something alarmingly, your first instinct is to assume it’s important and that you should be alarmed too, kind of like if you were to ride a rollercoaster on a first date, your heart rate will go up. Your body is unsure whether your heart rate is up because of the rollercoaster, or because you really like your date (hint: good first date idea if you already know you like someone).
This isn’t anything new. The media has been doing this for a very long time, especially with propaganda during World War II. Now it’s a bit different because social media is involved and people mindlessly share things that get their heart pumping without stopping to think about why.
Maybe you should stop.
Think about why. Keep calm and filter the news.
Photo Credit: tumblr user @loopedgifs