Remember when having an opinion was no big deal? You would read about something outrageous like, well, just about everything in the news lately. Let’s pick a random story from last week:
New Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte won the election even after saying he would have liked to be first in line to rape an Australian missionary who was gang raped and murdered during a 1989 prison riot in the Philippines.
You would react by penning a letter to the editor or, calling a friend to express your outrage, or put out a contract on these two lowlifes. But now you can share your indignation on your own personal blog, post the story to Facebook so everyone can hate it along with you; you can tweet it in 140 characters of cleverness; you can even create a really cool video around your disgust and post it on Youtube. You can write a very thoughtful piece about stupid men, and post it on Medium, the writing platform, which reports 25-30 million monthly visitors. Hell, I gratefully get to rant on Huffinton Post, which, as of last October, was pulling in 86 million viewers a month. Having opinions is really popular right now!
So why do so many institutions go out of their way to label their opinions as something else? As was reported by Gizmodo this week, contrary to what users assumed, Facebook reports what it thinks is trending, not what their fancy algorithms tell them is really trending. Why not just say so? Here’s what we think is hot news! Did they really worry that FB addicts would be indifferent to their dealer’s take on the best current available high? I would never have guessed they were so lacking in self-esteem. And now everybody’s mad at them. Aw, poor little Facebook.
Amazon.com also has issues with labeling their point of view for what it is—as in, we discriminate against certain companies because we feel like it. That’s my personal experience as a seller on Amazon. Amazon is arguably the biggest retailer in the world; even if you don’t particularly like their business practices, your products kinda need to be there. A couple of years ago, they disappeared my products from the site. Stated reason: the FDA has never officially tested my product category for use on skin. Thousands of skin-care products happily sit on store shelves throughout the U.S. even though they have never been tested by the FDA. This is legal. They banned my products, but not those of my competition. Foul! It took months of emailing to get a response. Well, they never really respond; however, they eventually took everyone else’s products off the site. But a year later, pages and pages of similar products live on Amazon, and no amount of querying to find out why makes a difference. Obviously, Amazon’s opinion is that my product is totally safe—even though its published Restrictions page begs to differ. You’re a big boy, Amazon. You can do whatever you want. Just call it what it is: your opinion. Or arbitrary discrimination.
I could go on regaling you with similar anecdotes, but here is just one last case in point. No need to call out Fox News, which presents itself as a medium for news while blatantly peddling right wing opinions. It’s just that the establishment, so-called responsible press does it too, now. As a matter of course, the New York Times, Washington Post and NPR (just to name three) all breathlessly report news-breaking stories as they happen before the facts have been verified. They sort of cover themselves with disclaimers like This is a breaking story; and We are being told…; and These facts have not yet been confirmed. What they mean to say is We think you’d want to know that there’s a rumor going around… Call me old school but give me facts, ma’am, just the facts. Absent that, just call it what it is—an opinion—and enjoy the clicks.