Last week a young woman living in Scotland posted a picture online of a two-tone dress the mother of her engaged friend was planning to wear to the wedding. Under the close-up photo, her caption read: “guys please help me – is this dress white and gold, or blue and black? Me and my friends can’t agree and we are freaking the (bleep) out.”
I’m sure most of you know what happened next. The picture and question went viral to such an extent that millions of people, including celebrities, were responding on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites like Tumblr, where it was originally posted.
It was also all over the news with many media outlets offering a polling system to tally how many people viewed the dress as white and gold, like my husband and I did, or blue and black, like our children did. The results seemed evenly split for the most part, and that’s what I noticed when I posted the picture and question on my own Facebook page.
While most people seemed to be having a jolly good time weighing in with what they saw, baffled as to why we weren’t all seeing the identical colours, others were completely irritated.
“Nobody cares,” “It’s ugly,” “This isn’t news,” “This is stupid,” and “Enough already” were just some of the sentiments I read repeatedly.
Obviously the colour of the dress wasn’t the only thing people were completely divided on.
The reaction to this story becoming an internet sensation was clearly mixed. From my perspective, I saw it as an entertaining distraction from the horrifying murder and mayhem that typically dominates the news. I found it engaging because so many of us were asking the same questions. Why aren’t we all seeing the same thing? Who posted the original picture? How did it go viral so fast? Why had this type of story not exploded in the news before? What was the actual colour of it in real life?
Those answers and more can easily be found online, but in case you don’t already know, the lowdown on the latter is that the dress is blue and black. Interesting. So what else have I perceived so incorrectly?
No, this was not hard hitting news. But, like most people, I welcome some enjoyment in my day and this fit in nicely. It also taught me some things I didn’t know.
I was intrigued to hear what my friend Susan thought, since she’s often complained about the negativity of traditional media. “If it leads it bleeds,” she’s groaned. “It’s so depressing.”
I thought she’d love the lighthearted dress debate. I was wrong – she was not impressed. She also disliked the extensive coverage a couple of escaped llamas in Arizona were getting at the same time.
“Don’t you find them interesting or amusing?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “But even if I did, llamas on the loose and hideous dresses don’t belong on the news.”
I had to disagree. The public displayed tremendous interest in both of these stories. They’re a good example of how people want the serious journalism that might leave them feeling sad or angry, but they’re more likely to pass along the happy stuff.
An analysis of the social share counts of over 100 million articles by Buzzsumo confirms this. The content discovery company presented the four most popular emotions invoked in viral stories as awe, laughter, amusement and joy, whereas sadness and anger were among the least popular emotions, adding up to only seven per cent.
I can’t say I’m entirely okay with these statistics. Sharing information about crucial issues that require our help need to be circulated as well. Yet when we consider that the most read articles aren’t necessarily the most shared, and that we’re thoroughly inundated with tragic stories from all over the world, it’s easy to see why we’d be attracted to something positive.
There needs to be a healthy balance between all types of reports, both good and bad. But much like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, news is in the mind of the observer.
Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columnist. She can be found at LoriWelbourne.com