Technology has created a 24/7 production pipeline of information for consumption, where “news” outlets are in a constant battle to attract the attention of potential readers and are almost required to make sure that their titles catch the attention of any passerby.
Enter the world of #clickbait.
There is no argument that printed media of past has been hit the hardest with the advent of the internet. Many have shifted to having an online presence, and for the most part still try to uphold some of the journalistic standards of past. However, there are numerous pseudo-news websites popping up almost every month with far less journalistic integrity.
The internet is an open and diverse system, allowing for anyone and everyone to post information and content which is indexed and searchable. This blog is a perfect example of my own personal ability to just put out a stream of consciousness for public consumption. While I have no financial motivation (notice no ads!), there are businesses that are built around the idea of ad revenue. It is therefore in their best interest to attract traffic to their site, and in some cases that means doing some potentially compromising actions.
How many people can honestly say they haven’t clicked a shared post on Facebook, only to find that the content didn’t match?
I’d postulate that the only people saying no right now, are those that are not on Facebook. The problem could be considered at an epidemic level, but why?
It has become overabundantly clear that a great deal of the general population takes things they read online at face value and neglect to think critically about the topic and/or source. Instead of using our critical thinking skills, its often easier to simply accept what we have been presented and move on (liking/retweeting as we go).
Dangerous, isn’t it?
I recently found myself in a conversation with numerous people across numerous platforms, all centered around some recent bad press Uber was having.
The “Uber” Example
I have some serious issues with how Uber circumvented Apple’s API checks by altering their app’s logic to not execute certain branches within a set distance of Cupertino. Albeit clever, it still violates my ethical compass. I also am not going to specifically link to the articles in question. As part of the idea of critical thinking, people can google it for themselves. I have no desire to improve their SEO ratings by linking back to them.
It’s pretty well accepted that there is/was some trouble at this embattled company. No sense rehashing those stories, my focus is merely on the fact that its a great target for the “throw shit at it and see what sticks” approach which is almost guaranteed to drive readers to your article.
Not to long ago an article came out implying that Uber was tracking peoples phones even after the app had been removed. When I saw the title, my first thought was “damn how did they do that”, shortly followed up with “oh man thats going to cause a shit show”. I had some brief thoughts on how it could be done, but ultimately decided it wasn’t worth my time to think about it too much. After a week of similar attacking articles, a retraction/update was made to the original article changing the language to be “monitoring”. At this point the article had already caught the attention of social media, had become accepted as truth, and had generated plenty of ad revenue for the pseudo-news agencies. While monitoring is no better then tracking, a careful selection of words was able to drive an abundant amount of traffic to the original article.
Then social media provided another outlet of articles crying foul, specifically to the diversity groups established within Uber that were outlined in their recently released Diversity Report. When I first saw the headlines circulating I, naturally clicked the link to take a peak at the articles. I thought there is no way that any company would publicly say something as bad as that. Needless to say, the articles attacked the identifiers that Uber employee groups had given themselves crying foul and claiming cultural insensitivity. My take was that if that’s what they want to call themselves, who am I to tell them otherwise (that seems to be my stance of late, “who am I to judge?“).
What I found interesting after reading a few articles was the Uber PR managers response to the charges of cultural insensitivity. He indicated that it was common practice by other tech firms to allow their staff to come up with groups/names citing similar naming found at Google. Only one of the articles posted the response, which I quickly #factcheck’d and he wasn’t kidding. Some of the earliest references to Google’s similarly named groups dated back to 2013. There were even cases of numerous mentioned denominations fully supporting the names Google employee’s came up with.
So why are these articles crying foul at Uber’s employees actions, and not taking pot shots at Google. #clickbait
I am not going to pretend to know the full answer here, I’m simply trying to encourage people to ask questions and think critically about things they read. I can only assume that it always seems to come down to money. By crafting titles and content that are going to drive readers to your site, you are naturally going to profit from ad revenue. It just frustrates me to see far too many people taking things at face value without diving into the source material and coming up with their own impressions and thoughts on the matter. Maybe — we’re feeling the long term fallout of teaching regurgitation? If it were only that easy to identify.
Is there a moral problem with all this? Absolutely.
Is there a legal problem? I don’t know, ask a lawyer.
I’m all for free speech and being able to express yourself, but don’t lie.
People will always do questionable things for money.