When Opinion Becomes Fiction

The following post refers to a piece written on Mamamia. You can find the link here. My response to the article, which I have written as a comment several times but has not passed moderation, is below.

Mamamia,

I am so disappointed with this post. Many of your articles blur the line between journalism and opinion, and that’s fine. But this post is not factual. Several key pieces of information have been omitted or exaggerated. You can’t represent opinion as journalism.

I was on this thread. There were hundreds of comments. One person only expressed concern. One. Not ‘some.’ Every single other comment was in complete support of the new group. Of nearly 6000 women just one single person expressed sentiments you labelled racist. It culminated in a large number of us committing to a ‘Bollywood night’ in recognition if cultural diversity that exists within our ranks. It was self moderated and incredibly compassionate and kind. I was proud that so many women stuck up for the original poster.

You have taken less than 1 percent of the comments and ignored the strong reaction from 99% of posters. It was the very best of what women can accomplish together. This article is either extremely poor journalism or incredibly one sided opinion.

Many commenters have now unliked mamamia in disgust. As someone that has been published on Mamamia I am disappointed at the level you have sunk.

And now, some perspective.

As someone who has just started a blog I understand that there is a very fuzzy, fine little line between blogging and journalism. One is (meant to be) a detailed and factual reporting of events, preferably leaving no major details unwritten so as to prevent the reader from drawing inaccurate conclusions. The other is one person’s opinion. And in a country where we live and breathe the right to free speech, it certainly has a place. Because as an Australian I must not only permit people to disagree with me, I must celebrate vociferously their right to do so. Even if what they say is hurtful or their opinion differs drastically from mine. Especially then, because that’s when free speech is at its best.

But when opinion blurs with facts we must be very careful not to misrepresent the truth. We must not print fiction as a result of lazy journalism or zealous storytelling.

This week an online community I am a proud member of was betrayed from within. An article, published on a nationally viewed opinion site, grossly misrepresented the facts regarding a particular thread. Individuals, though not named, were put in a spotlight they could never have foreseen from a simple online post. Many of us experienced some amount of unpleasantness, and the group as a whole was labelled in a completely unfair and discriminatory way, with no way to reply or defend ourselves.

Never mind that this was a closed group – there are conflicting opinions as to whether or not this should mean an assumption of some amount of privacy, and we all understand that. Never mind the uneasy feeling that we had been duped and betrayed by a ‘mole’ in our midst. We’re big girls, and we’ll get over that, though I am sure we’ll be a little more wary of what once was a safe space to share information and ideas, and gain comfort from our online friends. And never mind that the group’s founder along with the two individuals in question on said post are all individuals that I personally respect deeply for various reasons. Or even that those three women along with the other five and a half thousand members are all part of a group used for online tabloid fodder.

What bothers me most about this is the exploitation of the facts in order to gain a sexy tag line and a few thousand shares. That an author can pretend to be a journalist, then hide behind an ‘opinion piece’ when they want to garner attention. What bothers me, immeasurably, is that we don’t expect more from the opinion influencers and writers. That the story itself bears so little resemblance to the truth and it doesn’t seem to matter to the world at large. What bothers me is the commenters philosophising about who is right and who is wrong on a story that has been so fictionalised, as if the invention of a keyboard makes them more informed without the burden of asking for balance and truth. That we no longer feel the need to critically evaluate the information we read. That we have become so ready to believe the worst, be outraged and rage against a fictional enemy. What really bothers me in the worst way, is that I’ve read these articles before. I’ve commented on them myself. I haven’t asked more from myself when forming an opinion.

We have information at the touch of a keystroke. We have the ability to learn just about anything we want to if we look just a tiny bit further. And today I am so disappointed at what we choose to report on, and how. And what we choose to believe without questioning, what we could learn and the power social media and the internet could hold but we choose not to harness. And that we aren’t asking more of our journalists, our opinion makers, and even ourselves.

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