Media Sensationalism Exposed: Volcano Edition
Recently, Mauna Loa erupted. Although the primary lava flow that originated from the northeast rift zone might pose a threat to Daniel K. Inouye Highway–colloquially known as Saddle road–the eruption has been fairly mild. No homes, communities, or individuals have been directly threatened by the mountain.
Despite this, many articles that have recently sprung up are disingenuously framing the Mauna Loa eruption as dangerous and more significant than it really is.
RFI, a public radio station, stated that “Fountains of lava and rivers of molten rock were spewing from the world's biggest volcano Friday, as the first eruption there in almost four decades showed no signs of abating,” adding that “Two fissures on Mauna Loa were venting huge volumes of viscous rock and gases from deep within the Earth, in a thunderous display of the power of nature.”
This type of rhetoric is not technically false, but the heavily loaded words can certainly influence an audience and lead them to inaccurate conclusions. Additionally, important pieces of information that might suggest a less severe reality are often left out or only touched on briefly.
Fortunately, more local news sources have reported on the topic with substantially less sensationalist voices. KHON 2 Honolulu stated that “As of Friday, Dec. 2, officials confirmed that fissure 3 is now the only active fissure from Mauna Loa and only one active flow remains.” Clearly, the more local media organizations present the eruption much more factually, objectively, and realistically.
But why exactly do these news sources engage in so much sensationalism? The answer is simple: they want more views. New organizations will intentionally frame events as more significant because they want to maximize the amount of clicks and views their articles get, consequently receiving more money.
There is an obvious problem with this type of presentation; It can mess with someone’s perception of the world and how dramatic topics really are. Sensationalist articles from otherwise reputable sources could even be responsible for the future spread of misinformation. This is because these articles could be easily misinterpreted and utilized to promote things that are not within the realm of reality.