Their simplicity is their genius, and their genius is that although they are meant to instruct children, they are also meant to be imprinted in our collective brains so inherently that the lesson remains into adulthood.
Or, at least, that’s how it used to work.
Remember the Boy Who Cried Wolf?
Sure you do.
A young man in charge of looking after a sheep herd decides to have a little fun. So he begins to shout out, “Wolf! Wolf!” This causes the townspeople nearby to stop what they’re doing and run to the flock in order to drive the wolf away.
Except that there is no wolf, of course. The boy made it up in order to get everyone worried, and in order for him to laugh at the townspeople. He repeats this prank a few more times, until finally, when a wolf does appear his cries of “Wolf!” fall on deaf ears, because the townspeople don’t believe him.
His word cannot be trusted, and the flock suffers.
But that story is hundreds of years old, so how does it apply to our lives, what with our electronics and Internets?
Even in the age of Social Media it applies. Actually, I should think that especially in this age it should apply.
Let me ask you this, Dear Reader:
Imagine the folks at Amazon, in it’s early years as they set up its website, begun displaying its wares of books and toys and Adirondack Chairs, guaranteeing delivery in 3 days and excellent customer service. But instead its deliveries were late, the product delivered looked nothing like the pictures on the website, and the customer service was all, “Yeah, that sucks, but what do you want me to do about it?”
Amazon wouldn’t have survived would it?
Because its Social Proof, that idea of what one can expect from a person or organization based on the prior experience of other people, would have never been established. There never would have been the of “I’ll just get it on Amazon” that is ingrained in us today. It would have become another Pets.com.
So what does this have to do with Crying Wolf?
Well, if you get burned once by Amazon, how likely would you be to use its service again? In the beginning you’d probably not be very likely to, unless you’d heard good things about it from other people. But if you ordered something again, and it too was not what you expected, you’d start to get numb to the Amazon effect.
They’d be the boy Crying Wolf, and even if they fixed the issues later, you’d have been a townsperson laughed at one time too many, not willing to come out to see if there really was a Wolf of a deal on their site.
And then there’s Social Media.
Though there is plenty Crying Wolf to be had as well, the parable that I associate most strongly with Social Media is Chicken Little, he of “The Sky is Falling” fame.
This little chicken has an acorn fall on his head, and he proceeds to exclaim to all the other bird-fowl that the world is coming to an End. And, because they’re all stupid and easily convinced, the other birds believe him and similarly panic that the Apocalypse is upon them! The conclusion to this parable is when a Fox, knowing a case of mass hysteria when he sees one (and knowing that birdmeat is delicious) convinces the flock of bird-brains to hide in his den, in order to be safe from the falling sky. Once inside they all have a nice sit down and watch reruns of The Office on Netflix.
And then the Fox eats them all.
So why is Social Media the Chicken Little of our time?
Because one of the most insidious, culturally speaking, effects that it has had is that of deliberately spreading misinformation.
There are a few reasons for doing this, but it’s usually a mixture of three:
- Personal gain
- Professional gain
Donald Trump famously labeled the mainstream media an “Enemy of the American People”, which most of the media bristled at. As a reaction to his pronouncement they called him unfit, inappropriate, and that “Donald Trump is demonstrating an authoritarian attitude and inclination that shows no understanding of the role of the free press.”
Now I’m no ardent defender of President Trump, but on this specific issue, I tend to agree with him whole-heartedly.
Because the reason that the press has so much influence and power in the United States is because they have that power written into our Bill of Rights. The First amendment states that:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
But with this freedom came the expectation of unbiased reporting.
As in, regardless of what my personal beliefs are as a person, as a journalist I will report what is, not what my interpretation of what is.
The press should be the Arm of Information for the American People. There should be no left-leaning or right-leaning media.
But I live in the real world, and I know that I’m mostly being lied to. Which is why I’ve implemented a couple of filters called:
The 36 Hour Rule of News
This Rule pertains to any national news story happening in real time, and when bits of “information” are being reported before all the facts are in. The rule is, I don’t believe or even listen to what is being reported until a day and half after the event has occurred.
Because news organizations aren’t motivated by being right about a story anymore, they’re motivated by being the First to report on it, and being able to give you “Their Take” on what’s happening.
The shooting at the Capital Gazette in Baltimore is a perfect example of this. The twitter feeds for multiple news organizations had information wrong across the board. The number of people shot, the type of weapon used, and most egregiously, who was responsible.
Many in the media had a White, Conservate Trump supporter already profiled, and wanted their pound of flesh from the President before any information was known. One (now former) reporter was even forced to resign when he reported that the shooter had dropped a “Make America Great Again” hat at the scene.
But all for nothing. The shooter was a Hispanic man, likely mentally ill, who had some running feud with that specific news organization.
And yes, there were some retractions to the false reporting, but those don’t get headlines.
So, “The Sky is Falling!”
The 6 Week Rule of Outrage
This one’s simple enough, and all I did was modify some good advice I got once.
When you move, and you start unpacking all the boxes of clothes, dishes etc. Make a note of the boxes you don’t unpack. If there are still boxes unpacked in 6 months, take them to Goodwill, or throw them away. If you needed what’s inside, you would have unpacked it and used it already.
Modified to 6 weeks, I do the same thing with news stories, specifically those that reporters and Talking Heads are especially vocal about.
(This works best during the week, middle of the day).
Turn on your televison. Go on, do it. Turn it to Fox, or MSNBC, or CNN. What are they yelling about? What story has them up in arms?
Write it down or make a note of in your Smart Phone, then set a Reminder in your Calendar App for six weeks from today.
When that reminder comes up, I can almost assure you you’re not going to remember what the story was, and I know damn well those reporting about it aren’t outraged anymore.
Because the story, and the world has moved on. Old outrage, Old News. Onto the new Outrage, which whatever it is, is a form of:
“The Sky is Falling!!”
The “1% Emotion is Worth 90% of Fact” Rule
This is something that I’ve seen employed more and more, and am still amazed how effectively it works.
I’ve come to realize that the media, politicians, and basically anyone trying to sway you over to their side use emotion as a weapon. Because no matter how rational an argument is, there is always the human element to contend with. The basis of this rule is such:
The media doesn’t want you to think, it wants you to feel. It’s easier to control what you feel then fool you into believing it’s what you think.
It’s sad that it’s come to this with journalism. It is called the Fourth Estate, another branch of the American Government.
Now it’s the Fourth Estate Sale, sold to the lowest bidder.
Because there may come a time when the Sky may indeed be falling, that a Wolf may indeed be at the sheep, but how are we to believe those who should know better when they’re reporting on acorns and shadows?
Don’t fall for it.
Don’t be a Chicken (Little or otherwise).
And think for yourself.