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When Omitted Information Adds Fuel to Fires

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare wrote that in Romeo and Juliet in order to frame the idea that naming is simply a convention. That the surname of his beloved did not matter because he was simply in love. And maybe Romeo was on to something about love and family and loyalty. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case with names. Sometimes, we build entire regions of information around names. If someone told you they were going to Paris, you probably would have thoughts of the Eiffel Tower and buttery, flaky, bread and pastries at a small cafĂ©. Until of course you checked their plane ticket and saw that they were actually headed to Paris, Texas. The same problem might occur if a friend told you they were about to go on a date with a fantastic man with the last name Dahmer. Without further information, our brains and often our biases kick in to fill in the rest of the information we think we need. Normally, this isn’t much of an issue. Until news organizations use this inherent ability to fill in gaps in information to drive clicks, full well knowing most people don’t move beyond the headline. Take Build-A-Bear as another example. What do you think of when you read that company name? Brightly colored stores inside of malls stuffed with anxious, smiling children waiting for their turn to stuff and dress their newest toy? Then came the media.

Yup, that’s right. The news organizations decided to omit something vitally important about these new teddy bears: they are not sold in stores, not shown to children, and not even targeted to children. Yet, that’s not what people are interpreting this as, and it’s causing quite a fire online. What most people don’t know, and I certainly didn’t know until the writing of this article, is that Build-A-Bear has a separate line adult centered lines that are only available online and in the 18+ section of the website. In fact, there are many different types of collaborations found in this section, including but not limited to, Dwight Schrute, The Black Panther, and even a Gollum from LOTR. But that’s not what you think about when you think about Build-A-Bear unless you are more familiar with the product lines found online.

In some cases, letting people make assumptions based on prior experiences and knowledge is both necessary and acceptable for news organizations. The issue here is that there is an abundance of ignorance and a powder keg of cultural and racial tensions that are just waiting for the right spark, especially in the United States, and especially against the Trans community. At the very least, this is negligence. But here I would actually go so far as to say this kind of rhetoric, or rather the lack of rhetoric through omitting information in your headlines, is intentionally dangerous for the purpose of garnering clicks.

In this case, the only purpose of omitting information was to add fuel to an already burning fire of right-wing hate and violence. I mean, Kid Rock decided to shoot cans of Bud Light with a rifle just because the parent company Anheuser-Busch decided to collaborate with a Trans person for advertising. In a country where the response to rainbows and celebrity’s beer commercials is to shoot a fucking gun at cans of beer to vent your anger and show your outrage, maybe we should stop with the hate-baiting in headlines. Just sayin.

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