A celebrity death sort of goes like this: Celebrity dies, people tweet a lot of RIPs. Westboro Baptist Church announces its plans to protest the funeral, people tweet a lot of OMGs.
Westboro, if you recall, is the group that holds signs like “God hates fags,” yes, generally startling stuff if you haven’t seen it before. But they also do this all the time, so it’s pretty expected.
The small group has been doing these kinds of things for quite a while, so it ceases to amaze me. But every time they do it, I guess, you find people who haven’t heard of the group. People are still shocked it exists and I’m still shocked that they’re shocked.
Every now and again, we like to tell you more about an image or video that’s captured public attention. Today, we want to talk about a photo. It’s an image of a protest and a counter-protest.
For years, members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas have shown up at public events, including military funerals, to spread their message that God is punishing America for the sin of homosexuality. They carry signs with slogans, such as God Hates America and God Hates Homosexuals – although, on that sign, they very often use a derogatory term that we are not going to repeat.
Well, after seeing these signs and these protests, Josef Miles, a Topeka nine-year-old, decided to make his own sign with the message God Hates No One. He stood next to Westboro demonstrator, and his mom posted a photo on Facebook. Well, to date, NPR’s blog post about this has been shared on Facebook more than 100,000 times, and that doesn’t even count all the other ways social media users are passing it around.
When someone explains “It went viral,” it seems kind of quaint. This very dramatic slinky-on-a-treadmill video has a million views and I don’t see any news stories or interviews about its viral-ness.
I realize an interviewer isn’t going to ask super specific question of a 9-year-old boy, but there’s something huge missing from her interview. Was there no thought to ask about his faith or his mother’s faith? Was there any faith motivation behind his desire to send a counter message? It’s so glaring it’s painful.
Back to the big picture, though, what do we do with these kinds of stories? Is there anything more to it besides traffic bait? Westboro stories seem to do pretty well on the Internet, so it kind of feeds itself in a circular pattern. Unless Westboro is doing something unusual, like changing laws or something out of the ordinary, it ceases to be news by its very nature.
Westboro intends to shock, people get shocked, people share the stories, and it’s one crazy cycle. But if we know it’s going to happen, why do we still cover it, especially in multiple ways?
Image of viral signs via Shutterstock.