Social media influence: Peril in the headlines

Social media influence: Peril in the headlines

The greatly-derided craft of writing newspaper headlines is, like all other skills, constrained by the iron rules of science: a fixed line of space cannot accommodate an infinite number of legible characters in a given size and font.

A headline can suggest, deliberately or otherwise, opinion, bias and values. A classic example, thought to be apocryphal yet attributed to the London Times in possibly the 1930s is ‘Fog in Channel; Continent Cut Off’.

Way back then, newspapers did not have to worry about readers angered by perceived bias and venting their fury via anti-social media.

They do now, as The New York Times, the esteemed mouthpiece of the east coast liberal establishment, has found this week. Its report of President Donald Trump’s entirely unconvincing tele-prompted statement on the mass murders in Texas and Ohio was headlined ‘Trump Urges Unity vs Racism’.

In response to a torrent of tweets by readers who thought this headline in a sort of round-about way condoned or overlooked Mr Trump’s anti-immigrant rants and his resistance to gun-ownership law reforms, the headline was changed for the paper’s next edition. The president was: “Assailing hate but not guns”.

This might not affect the way in which Mr Trump sees the paper, but whatever he has to say about it won’t matter, since his supporters tend on the whole not to be New York Times readers and, anyway, he doesn’t seem to have a settled view about the publication he has praised as a “great, great American jewel” and rubbished as “sick”, “nasty” and “not nice”.

However, the implications of instant censorship or rewriting by twitter mobs, be they of the left or right, for a freethinking and independent press and its readers are alarming.

More on this topic

Scottish Court prorogation ruling dominates UK front pagesScottish Court prorogation ruling dominates UK front pages

Amber Rudd’s resignation dominates front pages of British Sunday papersAmber Rudd’s resignation dominates front pages of British Sunday papers

More than 4,000 apply for 83 Facebook-funded reporter roles in UKMore than 4,000 apply for 83 Facebook-funded reporter roles in UK

Irish Times in €2.6m operating profit before cost of Irish Examiner Group purchaseIrish Times in €2.6m operating profit before cost of Irish Examiner Group purchase

More in this Section

Flood relief scheme will be a catalyst for the cityFlood relief scheme will be a catalyst for the city

Will report critical of use of public services card ever be seen?Will report critical of use of public services card ever be seen?

A safe, boring budget is what we need as the drama of Brexit loomsA safe, boring budget is what we need as the drama of Brexit looms

Public service broadcasting - RTÉ might change but it must survivePublic service broadcasting - RTÉ might change but it must survive


Lifestyle

Make-up artist Terry Barber reveals the secret to pulling off the bold lip look.This is how to make black lipstick work in real life, according to a catwalk make-up pro

Off to the Japan? After a trip to Tokyo, Ella Walker outlines the best things to eat between matches.These are the dishes to try if you’re going to Tokyo for the Rugby World Cup

It still surprises me as I am achingly private and do not enjoy being at the centre of attention.This Much I Know: Actor Aislin McGuckin

Bride Geraldine O’Donovan felt as wonderful as she looked on her big day — knowing she was supporting a cause close to her heart as she donned her wedding gown.Wedding on the Week: Supporting a cause close to their hearts

More From The Irish Examiner