Tabloid headlines are a lot like those pictures of food you get in generic burger restaurants, fried chicken shops and greasy spoon cafes. What you get is never quite the same as what you've been promised.
And the thing is, once you've been to enough restaurants, you know what to expect. You've seen the beautifully-lit burger in a pristine bun, with not a single sesame seed out of place, the tempting curve of tomato jutting out from beneath the immaculate beef patty, the crinkle-cut gherkin cheekily dripping with ketchup, the crease-free paper bag of chips without a trace of grease blotting through the surface... and then you've seen the reality. You get a barely circular cowpat of beef burnt to a crisp or oozing pinky meat juices, wedged into a stale triangle of spongey bread with some kind of indeterminate vegetable matter that would require a good couple of weeks down the CSI lab to discover what it actually is, then a couple of crunchy fries floating in blobby grease.
You know the drill. There's a certain degree to which you know that the meal you order isn't going to be like the delicious banquet you've been promised in the photos, and that's fair enough. You pay your money and you know it's not going to be like that. Sure, you hope, but deep down you're aware that what you've experienced before has barely been food, let alone nice food. But it's late, you're tired, you've had a skinful and you just want to eat something - anything - before you collapse into a shallow puddle of your own faintly fizzing vomit. And guess what? There isn't a toasted brioche and quince jam van in your town centre. So you're stuck with what you can find.
It's the same, then, with headlines. Sure, you know they're promising you something, but you can be pretty sure that the article that turns up in served up at your table next to the squeezy tomato ketchup isn't going to be exactly as advertised.
When you read today's Mail, for example, and see:
Number of crimes involving Facebook 'leaps 346% in a year'
you don't automatically think: "Oh, that means Facebook has been involved in a lot more crimes!" You think: "Orly? Prove it, then, Mr Mail!" - and then you watch it all unravel. You start to see where the burger bun's been Photoshopped, and they've added more sesame seeds, and where the lettuce is really cardboard...
Reports of crimes allegedly involving Facebook have increased by 346 per cent in less than a year in one police force, it was disclosed today.
Incidents of abuse or other crimes allegedly involving the social networking site reported to Nottinghamshire Police rose sharply between April 2009 and February this year.
So that's reports of crimes allegedly involving Facebook in Nottinghamshire. And how many crimes are we talking about?
The force recorded 13 such reports between April 2008 and March 2009, it said.
In the following 11-month period, this number leapt to 58.
So we're talking about an increase from 13 to 58. Bizarre that an 11-month period should be chosen, but there you are. 58 crimes though... oh wait.
This led to six people being charged with offences, compared with three the previous year.
That's an increase of three, from three to six, then. Or 100% if my maths hasn't deserted me - not quite the same as the 346% increase in 'crimes' mentioned in the headline. And no mention of the conviction rate, I'm afraid, though some of these could, I imagine, be ongoing. What you could say, then, is that more people are reporting Facebook crimes in Notts but a small proportion of these reports result in someone being charged, let alone convicted.
I love the straight bat with which the police spokesman plays this:
DS Parsonage said: 'We don't know what part Facebook played in each offence.
'All we know is at some point within each crime there is some mention of Facebook.'
But try as they might, there's no way of stopping the juggernaut. Ever since the 'Facebook murder' which wasn't really a Facebook murder, the 'Facebook as conduit of evil' meme has been spreading through the mainstream media. It was linked with a rise in syphilis, though as you'll remember it was hardly conclusive evidence. You'll also recall the recent case of a fight at Victoria station in which a teenager died - many people allegedly met through messages and calls on mobile phones, but it was the Facebook link that the papers went for. Not that that matters, as we know.
It's a perfect story for the mainstream media and who they think are their readers: the demonised web and social networking responsible for crime and disease, the thing through which all moral corruption passes - just as TV, I guess, was seen back in the day, too. But is it true, I wonder? Is there evidence linking increased connectivity with increased crime? It would seem to be a sensible enough conclusion to make - after all, a more urbanised lifestyle, with more interactions, would seem to provide more opportunities too. But there's a leap from thinking that to saying Facebook is ramping up crime.
But we know what to expect. You see the headline, just as you see the photo in the crappy cafe. You know what you're about to be served up is tasteless, re-heated, homogeneous and unpleasant. But sometimes you just chow down on it anyway, when you're desperate for something quick to fill a hole. Doesn't mean it's a nice experience, though.