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Newspapers and social media: The age of the ‘armchair expert’

In days of old, it would be the case that the newspapers and television would be the drivers of gossip and opinion every time a celebrity story became prominent. Primarily driven via the tabloids, such stories fuelled by supposition would dominate a news cycle or two before disappearing from public view.

In an age where news is now received by a vast majority online, it is still the case that the media drives celebrity stories into the public consciousness, yet there is now a considerable difference.

That difference lies in the fact that with the swift rise of social media, media outlets now publish their articles via Twitter and Facebook, leading to rise of the ‘armchair experts’, namely members of the public who revel in promoting their views online.

Media outlets now publish their articles via Twitter and Facebook, leading to rise of the ‘armchair experts’

Social media has ensured people are more aware and engaged, yet there is a considerable downside to this. Such downside lies in the ability of said ‘armchair experts’ to permeate opinion as fact without considering the context.

While ‘armchair experts’ are prevalent everywhere on social media, their presence is particularly well felt on celebrity stories. The most notable example of this recently comes from the separation of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, a case that began with the announcement of their separation but then saw an allegation from Heard that Depp had committed an act of domestic violence against her.

Social media has ensured people are more aware and engaged

Traditionally, media would be bound by legal procedures when reporting such stories. Now, with social media, ‘armchair experts’ wildly voice and debate their views on such celebrity topics with abandon.

With the Heard and Depp case, there has been much vitriol directed at Heard, with comments calling her a gold digger and only having married Depp for his fame, while others speculate about her sexuality. In tandem, others have commented freely about Depp’s drinking and mental state.

‘Armchair experts’ wildly voice and debate their views on such celebrity topics with abandon

Regarding the domestic violence allegation, commentators have assumed the roles of forensic scientists, detectives, and lawyers, scrutinising Heard’s allegation to call her a liar, often based upon speculation and half-truths.

The great danger with ‘armchair experts’ wading into such issues and driving their opinions as fact is that it creates rose-tinted perceptions of an issue that can be false, and can also serve to send out negative signals about a sensitive issue like domestic violence.

It creates rose-tinted perceptions of an issue that can be false

In the case of Heard and Depp, no member of the public can claim to know either person’s personality behind closed doors. In similarity, no member of the public will have the full facts or context behind allegations made, and often no qualification to act as a forensic scientist, detective, or lawyer.

In light of this, while social media can be good in some cases, it is evidently not good when such stories end up with ‘armchair experts’ expressing views without possessing of all the relevant facts.

No member of the public can claim to know either person’s personality behind closed doors

In such circumstances, a far better response would be to let the legal procedures take their course without speculation. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem likely any time soon, though people should be waking up to the dangers of wild speculation and opinion as fact-seeping into the public consciousness, given the half-truths and negative perceptions it risks sending out.

Max Rodgers

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