When the BBC News app notification pops up on my phone these days, I look at it with a sense of fear, which was substantiated as I woke up on Wednesday morning. When a horrific event happens, such as what occurred on Tuesday night in Manchester, many of us will find out about it this way. Even more likely these days is that we will find out through links shared by friends and acquaintances on Facebook or Twitter. While some of these links will be from trustworthy news sites, many will be clickbait articles.
The trend for viral news can lead to false stories spreading. Recently, we have seen the story of 50 children apparently being led to a nearby Holiday Inn on Tuesday night, and that all the proceeds of a recent purchase of Ariana Grande’s ‘One Last Time’ would apparently be going to the victims of the attack. These stories are started online and spread via social media, begging the question ‘is the clickbait culture of many websites being used to capitalise on terrorism?’
In the Flagship office, the most frustrating thing we found during the attack on Westminster was the feeling of “news for news’ sake”. While social media and viral news stories do have their place in times like this, helping to find missing people or raising awareness of how people can donate blood, most of us find solace in cold hard facts rather than hysteric, elaborated stories based on “facts”.
You can end up feeding the most divisive impulses of an angry public if you aren’t careful about what conversations you’re prompting. People switch onto the news around events like this and traffic rises, but ironically it’s probably when trending reporters go most into their shells and into well-worn story formats. It’s not really our time or place, and to try and make it so feels childish.