On Tuesday morning, CNN baited its 11.7 million Twitter followers with a flippant tweet about rape:
In just 94 characters, CNN minimized a serious investigation and worthwhile read about Alaska’s sexual assault epidemic. The rate of reported rapes is three times the national average in that state, where 59 percent of women have experienced sexual or intimate partner violence and 37 percent have reported being sexually assaulted.
CNN has regularly used this tactic for its most tragic stories, copying a style popularized by the curation site Upworthy:
Upworthy is credited for coining headlines that prompt readers to click and share, like “When I Was A Kid, An Ad Aired On TV That I Didn’t Fully Get. Now, I Want Us All To Watch It Again.” But Upworthy editor Adam Mordecai condemned CNN for exploiting the tactic.
“Everyone keeps copying us as though every piece of content can or should be treated equally,” Upworthy editor-at-large Adam Mordecai told ThinkProgress. “The curiosity gap is just a tool, and one that should be used strategically and tastefully. The casualness of that tweet makes it twice as appalling. It’s not surprising that rape is so prevalent, it’s disturbing and alarming that it’s prevalent all over the country. A surprise is for birthdays. Not this.”
CNN hasn’t deleted the tweet, but it did respond to the scrutiny on Twitter. “Tx for feedback. It’s genuinely surprising Alaska’s rape rate is so high. The story deserves attention,” it said.
It does require attention, particularly since rape prevention activists continue to grapple with almost-daily examples of sexual assault and harassment not being taken seriously. But addressing issues of sexual assault also involves grappling with the best way for the media to cover it.