What follows is a critique of our broken media culture – a shaming of a society that values clickbait over reality and suffocates dignity and logic. I wrote this out of frustration and disgust when the “top headlines” of my day involved Kim Kardashian’s see-through dress, bacon-wrapped tater tots, and mannequins that got breast enhancements.
These clickable headlines are fun in the same way that eating Cheetos is fun: it’s convenient, easy, and we can’t seem to get enough. And just as too many Cheetos cause our bodies to become lethargic and gross, so too does media junk food have the same effect on our brains. If you’re a frequenter of the online media, you know that clickbait and gossip drive the agenda – but how did we get here in the first place?
Try to determine which of these headlines were from the late 1800s and which were trending online last week.
“Couldn’t Sell His Ear, Old Man Shoots Himself”
“Is There a Right Way to Get Naked?”
“Owl Frightens Woman to Death in Hospital”
“You’ve Been Shaving Wrong This Whole Time”
“War Will Be Declared in Fifteen Minutes”
“How Fancy Can You Decorate a Bedroom for $200?”
People today are suckers for the same slop they were over 100 years ago: lies, exaggeration, and overly-sensationalized “news.” The only difference today is that those headlines glare at you from your iPhone screen instead of being yelled at you on a busy street corner.
We get tired of real life stories. Real life is harsh, complicated, and requires us to stop and think. So instead, we immerse ourselves in a fantasy land of celebrity slideshows and sped-up cooking videos.
The genuine, thought-provoking journalists and stories that we desperately need are out there. So why can’t they rise to the top where they belong? Well, basically because of people like you (and me).
As you can imagine, the industry is a slave to money. But how do blogs such as Buzzfeed, Gawker, Elite Daily, and Total Frat Move generate so much cash? It’s not through subscriptions like The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. Blogs make money from selling ads, usually at a rate of 1,000 impressions. The publisher’s revenue equals the cumulative cost per thousand impressions (CPM) multiplied by the number of pageviews. Bottom line, views equals cash. And every time you click, you put a little more money in the pockets of the scam artists.
But of course, these calculations mean nothing unless there’s something shiny to entice the consumer. Algorithms continuously troll the web for lucrative search terms that are hot at the time. This timeliness is one of the primary components of online virality. The popular sites you follow then create, listicles, quizzes, and “articles” based on those search terms, cap them off with a clickbait-y title, and hit “publish.” Whether the information is important, helpful, or accurate is irrelevant. What matters is speed and quantity. You can think of it as a digital sweatshop.
So there you have it – that’s how your media sausage is made. How you choose to interpret this information is up to you. This is the culture in which I was brought up, and the only solution seems to be developing the willpower to both navigate the bullshit and avoid contributing to the problem in the first place. I have witnessed too many excellent writers and thinkers go into journalism, only to be consumed by the slowly rotting system of pageview-centric garbage that is online media.
What’s left is a generation that can’t think independently or distinguish truth from opinion. Maybe you think you’re not affected by the system. I hope this is true, though it probably isn’t.The Cheetos of the Internet will always be out there – you can’t avoid them. But it’s never to late to go on a diet.
The Cheetos of the Internet will always be out there – you can’t avoid them. But it’s never to late to go on a diet.