Lying by Omission

Fortunately for us, during this past week, America celebrated the most romantic day of the year: Valentine’s Day. During this Hallmark holiday, the web is overrun by fake touching love stories and cliché creative how-to guides, however if you put in a little effort and do a little digging, you might be able to find an article or two with actual blog-worthy content.

On Valentine’s Day, news source Mashable released a video that focused on a study done at Brigham Young University that concerns the effect of online role-playing games on marriages. According to Mashable, the study concluded that 3 out of 4 spouses of online games wished their partner would “put more time into their marriages than their avatars.” Mashable also reports that the primary reason for why online role-playing games negatively affect marriages is not because of the amount of time the gaming spouse spends online but the amount of time the couples spend arguing and disrupting bedtime routine. However Mashable ends the video on a more positive note pointing out that not all relationships suffer from online role-playing games; in relationships where both partners play, gaming actually strengthens the relationship.

For a one minute video Mashable does a fair job in presenting what are probably the most interesting findings of the BYU study, however judging by the title of the video “Study Shows Online Role-Playing Can Damage Marriage,” and the fact that they spent eighty percent of the video discussing the possible damages shows Mashable placed an emphasis on the negative impacts of online role-playing game. From a business perspective, that would have been the appropriate way to market the video since the common view towards online role-playing games and people who play online role-playing games are generally negative and people like to read things that confirm their beliefs, however from an academic standpoint, Mashable’s biased presentation is misleading and can be considered an example of lying by omission.

This also occurred in the film Life 2.0. Like the Mashable video, it portrayed online role-playing games and its players in a very negative light by focusing only on failing stories of Second Life, but in reality, there are a lot of success stories stemming from Second Life. In 2008, Wired Magazine published a story about Second Life user Amanda Baggs who is autistic and does not speak. However when she plays Second Life, she has no problem communicating and behaves like what we consider normal social behavior. This has forced scientists to rethink autism and turn to new unconventional ways to communicate with autistic patients. This made absolutely no appearance in Life 2.0 even though it made headlines back in 2008 and really put Second Life on the map.

Because I found the BYU study interesting but the Mashable video lacking in more details, I searched for more content revolving the study on Google and found on Slate an article titled “How Playing Online Video Games Can Help Your Marriage.” This article is based on the same study as Mashable’s video however the title implies a positive conclusion had come out of this study. This article also goes more in depth than the video in how the study was conducted and not only does it touch on how online role-playing games have a positive impact but it also touches on the negative impacts giving a better complete overview of the findings.

Because one source is an article and one source is a video, it reminded me of our discussion in class regarding social cues and its importance. Many folks find face-to-face interactions more informing because seeing the person’s facial expressions and body movements helps us determine the message’s meaning more clearly however in this case, the article was much more clear than the video even though I was able to see the presenter as he spoke about the content in the Mashable video. This reminded me that even though we spend so much time worrying about what social cues may be omitted in certain mediums, we need to also focus on the source of the message and whether or not content is being omitted. If the content is distorted or tampered with, it doesn’t matter if the receiver understands the message or not because it is ultimately false. I feel like we’ve lost sight of what the purpose of communication is and are too wrapped up in the medium rather than the validity of the content.

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  1. sammcsmt

     /  February 23, 2012

    Firstly, I just wanted to start by saying how much I loved the tone of your opening paragraph. It’s crazy how much upcoming events or holidays have the ability to completely take over the Internet that way! However, I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with your analysis of Mashable’s video. I’m having trouble understanding why you thought it was exemplary of a lie of omission. I personally felt that by presenting both the negative and positive, the video was actually pretty balanced. Oddly enough, I found the Slate article that you provided to be extremely similar to the Mashable video. Both discussed how the findings of the BYU study could have positive and negative effects on a marriage. The only real difference I found was in the titles. Even though one title highlighted the negative effects and the other the positive, I still fee that both the video and Slate article served to report the BYU study findings in a balanced way.

    Anyhow, the video and article you included about Amanda Baggs was extremely interesting. It reinforced the idea that social media platforms should be researched from an assortment of angles, because their uses are so varied. To speak to your idea that the Life 2.0 documentary only focused on the negative aspects of Second Life, I think that was simply a matter of choice on behalf of the Jason Spingarn-Koff and his team. I would also argue that the woman who sold the clothing online and exchanged her Linden earnings for US currency could serve as a “success story” in this context. I’m drawing a blank on who said this, but the overall negative tone of the movie relates to a point one of our peers made in class: isn’t it arguably more interesting to watch a video about a bunch of strange people acting in an extreme manner?

  2. Amanda Au

     /  February 23, 2012

    I totally agree that watching strange people acting in strange manners is more interesting! That’s why Jersey Shore is so popular! But the danger in that is television networks, and their producers and directors also know that we, the audience, like to watch weird content so they sometimes spin stories such as those above in a way that would be interesting to us, even if that doesn’t display the whole truth. And that’s extremely dangerous because we trust these sources for to inform us, but when they choose to leave out details so the story will seem more dramatic and interesting and have a higher market value, that misleads us and can lead us to think wrongly about some things. Ultimately, it just goes against the responsibilities of journalism. Maybe the Slate article and Mashable video aren’t the best examples, but I’m sure most of us have encountered what I’m talking about in terms of business coming first.


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