There’s nothing quite like a deluge of good news on one’s Facebook, or Twitter, is there?
There’s nothing like basking in the glow of news, like an announcement of an album or a big sports win, with one’s online circle of likeminded friends. It’s one of the best experiences, even, to be had in the social media world.
This positive affirmation of one’s beliefs or opinions, political or otherwise, is so easy to get sucked into, and so very hard to escape. Case in point: the announcement yesterday that the Army Corps of Engineers would deny the Dakota Access Pipeline an easement necessary for it to cross under the area subject to protest in the last months.
Don’t get me wrong, this is an important victory and a tremendously inspiring one — explained here and backed up by blissful reactions ranging from the leaders of the water protectors, to Sen. Bernie Sanders, to Chance the Rapper.
Still, it’s not the landmark victory that many headlines circulating social media are making it out to be.
There is still a lot more work to be done. If DAPL gets antsy and decides to pull the trigger on digging without this easement, their only real obstacle, aside from massive public disapproval, would be some fines. Fines are hardly discouraging for a corporation that is backed by banks and is willing to overlook the violation of basic human rights and denial decency toward its detractors.
While many articles written about DAPL don’t acknowledge this in the actual articles, many of them do not acknowledge it in their actual headlines either — which is what one sees when scrolling through Facebook or Twitter.
Let’s take a glimpse at some of the headlines written on the subject, from sources many folks consider to be reputable sources.
In Victory For Protesters, Obama Administration Halts North Dakota Pipeline — National Public Radio.
“Army Halts Construction Of Dakota Access Pipeline” — The Huffington Post.
“Protesters Gain Victory in Fight Over Dakota Access Oil Pipeline” — New York Times.
“Army Corps ruling is a big win for foes of Dakota Access Pipeline” — The Washington Post.
Going off of these headlines alone, one could get the impression that the evil pipe-diggers have been vanquished, and the Lakota tribe will live a happy-ever-after.
But as stated before, the tribe and their supporters still face a steep challenge, albeit one made slightly less so with the decision.
Increasing clicks by cutting accuracy or context in headlines is hardly new issue, nor is it a black-and-white one. After all, newspapers and news websites are hardly thriving, and people have dinner tables to fill, even journalists.
That being said, there are few situations where there are higher stakes associated with this process then what is happening with Standing Rock. Yes, this announcement is a big victory. But if anything, it should inspire us to ramp up support even more, not let it slowly dissipate as the news cycle shifts to the next big thing.
Changing the fact that many people only read headlines, and revel in them on social media, is a complex issue that will likely require a solution that comes from teaching kids at younger ages how to process information. For right now, I’ve got nothing for that.
In the meantime, newspapers and news outlets: don’t capitalize on this. You have a responsibility to tell a story of truth that includes the headline. If, as journalists, we elect to paint this development as the end of the road and the fight slows, donations pitter away and allies go back to their ordinary lives, then we will be, in part, to blame for DAPL’s construction.
The reality is, the pipeline has been halted, not stopped. Even if it is rerouted, the environmental consequences are no less drastic today than they were yesterday. Big corporations will continue to have basically limitless troves of financial, legal and white privilege to do whatever the hell they want to with whatever person is in their way.
Keep telling that story, and, please, include it in the headline.