Purple Magazine
— F/W 2014 issue 22





If somebody wanted to show me a place where I can read slander, lies, and half-truths mixed in with libel and damaging hearsay, I would tell them to fuck off. Well, welcome to the Internet.

Of course, the Internet is amazing and has fundamentally changed the way we live. We can hardly function without it anymore, and I truly love the possibilities it offers. But as we know, there are two sides to every coin. Last year the World Economic Forum asked its members to identify the most pressing issues facing the world, and in 10th place was a concern over the rapid spread of misinformation online, with specific emphasis on the role social media plays. Other problems on the list were societal tensions in the Middle East, widening income inequality, and unemployment.

Misinformation and sensationalism in the media aren’t new. With the rise of industrialization in the late 19th century, a similar situation arose in the newspaper industry. There is a famous story of a reporter in Cuba during the Spanish- American War, who sent his superiors a telegraph saying there wasn’t any war to write about. The American newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst supposedly replied, “Please remain. You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war.” This concise anecdote has long been used to illustrate how journalism at the time often consisted of complete fabrications and sensationalist stories in order to sell more copies of a newspaper. Ironically, there is no evidence that such a telegraph correspondence ever took place, and Hearst most likely never wrote those lines, somehow proving the point of the story even more.

Over the years things slowly got better. Magazines added fact-checking departments, dedicated watchdog organizations were founded, and the general public became less willing to believe and pay for sensationalist journalism — except for tabloids, of course. But the Internet has undone much of that progress. Nowadays, it is common for respectable outlets to spread misinformation found on the Internet, like when NBC used reports from social media to claim that Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 had made a safe landing, or when CNN erroneously reported that the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange was under three feet of water during Hurricane Sandy, as a result of something read on a “chat bulletin board.” A chat bulletin board? Seriously?

Of course the publishing industry is under enormous pressure as a result of the Internet and the fact that budgets for traditional publications have been getting cut for the last 20 years. Most magazines used to have full-time fact-checkers, and such a department was a sign of being a serious editorial organization. But when budgets start shrinking, this department is one of the first to go — Newsweek got rid of theirs back in 1996 — and now it’s viewed as a luxury for a few elite print publications. So what can you expect from a website that pays a freelancer $50 for an article? Not much. Ultimately, only one thing makes money online: Page views. Impressions. Clicks. Eyeballs. So if one outlet breaks a story, everyone else rushes to copy so as not to lose out on the clicks. And then to compete with each other because everyone is writing the same stories; they resort to sensationalism and tactics long ago perfected by the tabloid industry. Content creators will write anything; it can be sensational, half true, or, in the worst case, nothing but fiction as long as it brings the traffic. If it is something negative about somebody, even better. I don’t expect anything else from tabloid magazines and websites. They are garbage and hopefully most people have some sort of understanding by now that they are full of shit.

The problem in the age of the Internet is that even lies can become facts as soon as they go viral. Once a story has appeared in enough magazines and websites, nobody questions it anymore. Dominique Strauss-Kahn was out of a job a long time before the charges against him were dropped. To sensationalize a story before all the facts have been heard can do irreparable damage. If someone is accused of something and the story goes viral, it doesn’t matter if they’re proven innocent later on. The damage is done; the reputation is destroyed. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? I can tell you what happened: innocence is boring. Perhaps the outlet that originally published the story will write a follow-up article about how they were wrong, about how they jumped to conclusions based on too little evidence, but how many people are going to see that? Will that story go viral, too? I highly doubt it.

Slander and rumors have always existed. In the village dynamic, if a rumor about you spreads, you are labeled, and no one ever forgets. Up until now there was always the chance to move and start a new life. With globalization during the past century it has become easier than ever to start over new, somewhere where your reputation couldn’t follow you. That possibility does not exist anymore. Just like the village, the Internet does not forget. And for now there is only one Internet. If you want to start over, all it takes is for a stranger to Google your name and you are done.

Berlin-based Sven Schumann is a writer, co-founder of the online interview magazine The Talks, and an editor-at-large
for Purple.

[Table of contents]

F/W 2014 issue 22

Table of contents

purple EDITO

purple NEWS

purple BEST of the SEASON





purple BEAUTY

purple LOVE

purple SEX

purple NIGHT

purple STORY


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