by Amy Coles
Conspiracy theories have been circling the web ever since a video surfaced six days ago of a girl whose exuberant twerking routine results in her accidently setting herself alight. As many suspected, the video was confirmed to be a hoax on Monday night when Jimmy Kimmel - talk show host and serial prankster - confirmed his involvement in the mysterious YouTube video.
Caitlin Heller (the girl who managed to twerk her way to social media stardom) was invited on for interview. Expect this wasn't the birth of the next biggest YouTube star, but the revelation of a cleverly orchestrated hoax masterminded by Kimmel and his team, with the help of professional stunt double Heller (real name Daphne Avalon.) A 'directors cut' version was aired exposing Worst Twerk Fail EVER as the latest in Kimmel's stream of viral hoaxes. Kimmel smugly admitted "We didn't tweet it, just put it on YouTube and let the magic happen."
And the "magic" did happen. Poof. A week after posting, the video garnered over nine million hits and graduated from plaguing social media to international news coverage. A simple Google News search will bring up hundreds of thoroughly duped media organisations dedicating editorial space and air time to the hottest viral video since Charlie Bit my Finger. And yet not one article casts any doubt on the videos validity.
Journalists everywhere should despair at how a commitment to storytelling with integrity was treated with such abandon. Frustratingly, the internet is full of readily accessible 'fail' videos, making it easy for journalists to go to YouTube, take down a copy of the video and run it. Bang - ready-made editorial content.
Whilst Jimmy's hoax parodies the rise of the YouTube star and how apparently easy it is to become one; it more worryingly exposes a sheer disregard for traditional journalist principles on behalf of the news organisations that ran it. It seems that in the scramble for a slice of the potential ad revenue, credibility was sacrificed for a few clicks.
This isn't simply an isolated case of lazy journalism, but part of a what The Guradian termed a trend toward "link culture" that is eroding the need for traditional journalistic skills and damaging the quality of editorial content. ComScore figures for July 2013 showed the U.K media hosted 22.6 million videos on news sites: a 181% increase on the previous year. These figures mark a definitive rise in the popularity of viral content, at the expense of hard news.
Increasingly, editorial decisions are being swayed by consumerist trends and the need to generate revenue through clicks. On The Daily Mail, where news stories positions on the home page are decided by hits, it's not uncommon to see a video of a jaunty cat hogging the top spot over stories covering the Syria crisis.
As the world's largest English language newspaper website, The Mail Online sets a president for industry wide practice. Whilst posting viral content continues to drive hits and satisfy a consumerist appetite for shareable and interactive content, journalistic integrity will continue to suffer. It seems to me that by trying to adapt content to reflect current trends, the principles of good reporting and signals are continually pushed aside and placed under threat.
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