Had the above headline been a link on your Facebook newsfeed, a simple click would direct you to a witty sequence of Leslie Knope and Beyoncé memes. Because of this, I’ll let you know in advance: I do not have a fierce picture of Queen B anywhere in this article. Nor do I have a bulleted list of 14 Reasons Why BuzzFeed Is Polluting Journalism. Sorry to disappoint.
The big issue with websites like BuzzFeed, Elite Daily and The Huffington Post is that the majority of their posts are nothing but oversimplified, scroll-friendly lists—something known to our generation as the “listicle.” Anyone who doesn’t still have dial-up internet knows what I’m talking about. The listicle craze has taken over, with headlines like “17 Insanely Clever Ways To Use Your iPhone” and “20 Awesome Things You Didn’t Know About The Walking Dead” littering Facebook feeds everywhere.
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of light reading, which these sites are known for, but our generation is beginning to post and share purely pop culture articles like these on social media as though the information being conveyed is real, credible journalism. The truth of the matter is that they aren’t credible journalism. As college students, we should know to do our research (haven’t we all learned this from the endless library sessions required for First-Year Seminar?).
Posts by BuzzFeed and ViralNova are written by members of our generation, therefore they understand what we want to read. They know how to attract our attention with relatable headlines and seemingly clever text acronyms. They know that Facebook is the hub of any and all late-night procrastination, and they know we can’t resist clicking “27 Signs You’ve Found the Perfect Roommate” or “Which 90’s Nickelodeon TV Show Are You?” They know that we’ll post the best friend listicle on our best friend’s wall, and that we are more than satisfied with the thread being memes exclusively from Mean Girls. It’s not critical analysis. It’s not fact-based journalism. It’s a stream of pictures that move.
Since the very beginning of media and television, advertisers have bent over backwards trying to come up with marketing ploys and tactics to entice us: the consumers. The plethora of listicles and celebrity scandals on social media only goes to show that they are succeeding. As consumers, it’s our job to filter through the sensationalism and choose to retain what actually matters.
I’ll admit that with a selective eye, one can find a few articles on BuzzFeed or The Huffington Post that can be considered (just barely) newsworthy, but they are almost immediately lost in a sea of shock-factor headlines. Additionally, both sites have been accused of incidents of faulty journalism, mixing up facts and making false accusations. Such is the case of Matthew Inman, creator of the popular web comic, The Oatmeal, whom a BuzzFeed writer claimed had made an insensitive and ethically controversial joke in one of his comics. Inman rebutted the false claim and BuzzFeed later issued an apology.
It’s no coincidence that the website’s “news” articles are not nearly as accessible as their bestselling listicles on the front feed. BuzzFeed’s posts on global and political issues are located under tabs entitled WTF and OMG, supposedly geared towards making the site easier to navigate. This isn’t 2005; we aren’t an audience of twelve year-olds in an AIM chat room. And isn’t it just a bit offensive that the tragic death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is filed under a tab called WIN?
As youth in pursuit of higher education, we are well aware of the fact that reading improves overall literacy skills. While sites like BuzzFeed offer a nice study break from the countless pages of Freud and Sartre we are assigned to read each semester, we need to acknowledge that this is junk food reading. Sure, we can indulge in pictures of Obama taking a selfie every once in awhile, but the thing to keep in mind is that these are merely indulgences.
While quality journalism may take a bit more brainpower to digest, we have a generational responsibility to make ourselves aware of the complex world around us, as we are soon to inherit its complications. These aren’t the types of issues that can be organized into a list of twerking Miley memes and filed under the LOL tab. They will not be simplified for our easy-reading pleasure. It’s time to stop feeding into the buzz, and start making the news ourselves.