My Triangle Theory of Outrage Journalism

The cover of Chrissy Teigen's recipe book, Cravings, features her smiling behind a counter filled with plates of different foods.

Social media has affected journalism in countless ways. And when I say journalism, I’m including all types of stories – frivolous entertainment, serious politics, privacy, tech, you name it. Whatever gets mixed into the stew of news and information counts as small-j, journalism.

But one of the biggest problems it’s created is an inverted pyramid when it comes to opinion and complaints.

Let me explain.

a triangle of varying colours from red to green to blue.

Pre-social media, when a reporter would endure criticism and complaints about a news story, those complaints, to be taken seriously, would most often form the bottom of a pyramid. In other words, many people would, or would likely, have the same opinion. Dozens of phone calls or an avalanche of letters would form the basis of the criticism. Then the story might spawn a story about the story. Do you follow?

This wasn’t the case every time, but in general, unless the story was about something wildly unusual, this was pretty accurate.

Now let’s look at what has happened since everyone was given a voice on the socials.

Same triangle upside down.

One person, one misinformed twerp, can change the entire conversation by sharing their opinion. It doesn’t have to check out or be based in any form of reality. It can be a reaction or an empty criticism. Some kid spouting off from Mom’s basement. Old man yelling at clouds. That kind of thing.

I see this most often in entertainment coverage where an entire story grows from a celebrity “clapping back” at a troll who takes a shot at them. Chrissy Teigen, ex-supermodel and owner of Cravings, is often mentioned in this way. However, this week Teigen quit Twitter saying she’s not as tough as she seems, because she can’t stand the idiots anymore.

A couple of things are happening here. First, celebrities are usually also human beings and often very sensitive ones. (I know, right? It shocked me too!) Instead of scrolling past the lone (or rare) troll, they stop and interact with them. Others tend to pile on once the door has been kicked open, sometimes just so they can say, “hey, Chrissy Teigen called me an asshole”. That’s very different from everyone reacting in a similar way.

DT, orangeman of Ma-ra-Lago, that tub of golfing goo, has plans to launch his own social media channel in the next few months. Excellent! Banned for life by Twitter must be frustrating. Millions of Americans still believe Joe Biden didn’t win the election. Let them gather where they’re welcome.

Trolls come from every political viewpoint, race, sex, occupation, age and intelligence level. A Trump-led social media app won’t eliminate trolls on the other socials. But a reduction of a certain faction of them will still be very welcome.

2 thoughts on “My Triangle Theory of Outrage Journalism”

  1. Fascinating. I had never thought of it this way. You are wise and funny, the best possible combination.

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