Ready To Be Outraged
You may have seen a story two weeks ago about a café in Melbourne selling a teaspoon of Nutella for $5.
The story first appeared on Melbourne Cool, then spread to Brown Cardigan, Sunrise, Nine, The Project, Pedestrian, Buzzfeed, and a wide variety of other websites. It then went international, appearing on the news in America, Germany, Hungary and the UK.
I watched this all unfold with a combination of bemusement and concern.
That’s because the whole thing is a joke, created by my brother-in-law.
It was essentially social media Chinese whispers. Melbourne Cool is a satirical page that posts photos like this:
But when Brown Cardigan picked it up, they omitted the names of the creators and just cited “Facebook”.
That post was then copied by each media outlet who took the story at face value, then cited comments from their social media posts as a source of content.
Just to recap, our major television networks and news sites ran a story and were outraged, over a joke photo and a series of comments from idiots who missed the point.
The debate grew larger and angrier; many people apparently boiling over the audacity of these café owners and the lunacy of their customers.
This was matched by others defending the café and their customers for being allowed to buy what they like, and that if there was demand for the product, then it isn’t such a dumb idea.
The German press claimed that “Diners were storming out of the café in disgust”
Gretel Killeen even stated on national television that she thought it was a good idea, and that perhaps it was the perfect portion size.
So again, in a week of huge global political turmoil, we focused our attention on the ethics of a shop and their customers, neither of whom ever existed.
And worse, we use angry social media posts as a “source”.
Literally two minutes of digging reveal that the whole thing is a joke. Surely the fact that there was no popup and no stories from customers should have made each journalist question the validity of the story.
What strikes me is our readiness to be outraged.
We love getting worked up, and we love having a vent.
If 100 people are already complaining on a facebook comment section, then we can too.
The joke was so harmless.
I understand if people were surprised or bemused, but why such anger?
Is it because we’re already upset with cafes? We feel exploited? We hate hipsters?
Nothing about this should prompt the reaction it received, yet here we are.
The whole thing is hilarious, until you think through the implications.
If you say, write or create something that gets taken out of context, you might have your own angry mob at your door.
Your tweet/photo/joke might end up on Sunrise or The Project, even if nobody from those shows have ever spoken with you.
When people are so ready to be offended, your innocuous comment could set of a disproportionate amount of rage.
That’s suddenly not as funny to me.
Even if the business was real, why do we have the right to say something venomous and expect to get away with it?
Would you let 100 people walk into your workplace and abuse your team?
It wouldn’t happen, because most people aren’t that brave.
They know they’d receive a return serve if they did – and possibly a restraining order.
As a final middle finger to the media, Melbourne Cool ran the popup anyway – at a café in Prahran.
They sold about 100 spoons, and gave all the money to charity.
But hardly anyone will hear about it, because that’s not going to prompt indignation.
I suppose this has taught me a few lessons:
1) A well-produced photo can fool the media into believing that there’s a whole campaign behind it.
2) Most online news hasn’t been researched, and is based on what other outlets are talking about.
3) Be wary of any story that cites social media reactions as a source of content.
4) There is a vast stockpile of outrage sitting within all of us, that is waiting to be unleashed. Venting as a group can create strong social bonds, so we look for any excuse to join in.
This is what happens when people like me refuse to pay for news. We get churned out content from journalists who need to create multiple posts per day, whose work is assessed not by impact or validity, but by the number of click-throughs their work received.
For now, let’s agree to funnel our anger towards the real problems in our world, rather than on what other people post on Facebook.