"Chelsea Clinton Running for Congress": Consequences of Short Attention Spans and Misleading Headlines
By Crystal Defatte
On Friday, December 9th our newest satirist made his debut with a piece by the name of “Chelsea Clinton Running for Congress“. It was a fake interview covering issues like resonating with the working class, tuition-free college, and understanding the plight of minorities. It painted her as out of touch, tone deaf, and unable to see her privilege as a child of two of the most powerful people in the world. The piece was not really specifically about Ms. Clinton herself, per se; she was only chosen as the star of the piece because of the recent rumors of a congressional run. At the heart of it, it was a social commentary on how the elite class tries to relate to average Americans, often failing miserably. The ridiculous nature of the fake answers given made all of us here at Progressive Voices of Iowa confident that it would be recognized for what it was and hopefully bring a few chuckles. Instead, it became an unintentional social experiment with less than ideal results.
We here at PVI didn’t anticipate two things. One was how many people would see it on Facebook and react to and comment on the article without even reading it. We saw comments like “I hope this is true!” and “Is she running as a Republican?”. These types of comments made it quite clear that people weren’t actually reading the article and were forming opinions based on the title alone. In an age of sensationalist “journalism”, this is especially dangerous. We have all seen titles of articles that amount to nothing more than clickbait. They are the ones with titles like “Says Virginia Del. Mark Cole “wants schools to check children’s genitals before using bathroom.” ” by the site Occupy Democrats, and “Gloria Steinem Refuses to Pay Taxes If Planned Parenthood’s Funding Eliminated” by Breitbart.
Let’s look at the first example I gave from Occupy Democrats. In actuality Cole’s bill would direct school boards across the state to develop policies to ensure that any public school restroom and locker room “designated for use by a specific gender to solely be used by individuals whose anatomical sex matches such gender designation.” The legislation defines “anatomical sex” as the “physical condition of being male or female, which is determined by a person’s anatomy.” (Gorman) This could mean requiring schools to check the birth certificates of students or the even more intrusive note from a doctor, but it is highly unlikely Cole intended for the bill to require a school official personally check the genitalia of children. As for the second example, what Steinem actually said was “In this case, we can say ‘I’m sending the part of my income tax that should go to Planned Parenthood, I’m sending it directly to Planned Parenthood. Come and get me. They come and collect eventually, but it costs them way more to go through the process.”. (Wulfhorst) It is highly likely this was simply hyperbolic, but even if the was serious the title of the article would have you believe she didn’t intend on paying any taxes, like say, Donald Trump. Without reading the articles themselves, you’d believe that Cole was requiring pedophilic sex crimes and Steinem was a tax evader. Of course, our title was not a sensational one and much more believable; it still serves as an example of people not getting the full picture by relying on headlines alone.
These types of misleading titles perpetuate misinformation and create an uninformed populous despite the fact that we live in a time of unprecedented access to facts at speeds never thought possible before the dawn of the internet. The only theory I have on why people are comfortable getting their news from a headline alone is that this ability to access information at that speed has led to a decrease in attention spans. I am not alone in this theory. A survey by Microsoft found that as a result of using smartphones the average attention span fell to 8 seconds, down from 12 in the year 2000. That’s shorter than the attention span of a gold fish, which is believed to be 9 seconds, “It has to do with the amount of information that we have access to and that ever expanding amount of information and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to stop,” said Doctor Christopher Deline, Vascular Neurologist at Buffalo General Hospital. (Christoforos)
The other thing we didn’t anticipate is that those who did read it may actually believe it. It seemed to us that the types of responses we had made up would be seen for what they were, an over the top caricature. Responses like “Using monies from the Clinton Foundation? Instant replay ya’ll. So tired of the Clinton Machine” and “I did find it kind of humorous when she said ‘My parents made me drive a 3-year old BMW.’ Lol Oh the struggle!” suggested that the satirical article was in fact believed to be an actual interview. The only explanation I can come up with is that people will believe whatever they read or see if it already fits their worldview. If you feel like the Clintons are out of touch, out of touch responses seem plausible. I cannot recall ever seeing anything that would suggest Chelsea Clinton was that tone deaf, but even if she were, an aspiring politician would know better than to respond that way if hoping to be elected . I believe our readers to be intelligent people able to discern between fact and fiction, yet even the most discerning can have troubles seeing beyond their world views and impressions of people. If it fits the narrative you have formed in your head, it must be true.
Hopefully, people will learn from this and start reading the articles they are telling the whole online world that they like. Hopefully, people will question whether what they are reading is the whole picture (or even real at all) and in turn question whether their biases are clouding their reality. Either way, we’ll be posting a disclaimer at the bottom of our satire pieces identifying it as such. Oh, and if Ms. Clinton does run, I wish her luck.
Christoforos, Angela. WBAY.com. 28 May 2016. 10 December 2016 <http://wbay.com/2016/05/28/study-smartphone-use-shortening-human-attention-span/>.
Gorman, Sean. Politifact VIrginia. 18 January 2016. 10 December 2016 <http://www.politifact.com/virginia/statements/2016/jan/18/occupy-democrats/occupy-democrats-grossly-twists-virginia-school-ba/>.
Wulfhorst, Ellen. Yahoo News. 9 December 2016. 10 December 2016 <https://www.yahoo.com/news/womens-rights-danger-u-states-trump-activist-gloria-125347258.html>.