Technology has created a 24/7 production pipeline of information for consumption, where “news” outlets are in a constant battle to attract potential readers and are almost required to make sure that their Uber titles catch the attention of any passerby. See what I did there? That right there!
Enter the world of #clickbait.
Printed media of the past was hit the hardest with the advent of the internet. Many companies shifted to having an online presence. Some of them still try to uphold the journalistic standards of past. However, there are many 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. This blog is a perfect example of my own personal ability to just put out a stream of consciousness for public consumption. I have no financial motivation with the site, but there are businesses that are built around the idea of ad revenue. It is in their best interest to attract traffic to their site. 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. This 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. They neglect to think critically about the topic and/or source. Instead of using our critical thinking skills, it’s 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 many people across many platforms, all centred 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 wish to improve their SEO ratings by linking back to them.
It’s pretty well accepted that there is some trouble at Uber. 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. Guaranteed to drive readers to your article!
Not too long ago an article came out implying that Uber was tracking people’s phones. This article implied that somehow, even after the app had been removed tracking still occurred. 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. Ultimately I 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. It had become accepted as truth and had generated plenty of ad revenue for the pseudo-news agencies. While monitoring is no better than tracking, a careful selection of words was able to drive traffic to the original article.
Why social media why!
Then social media provided another outlet for 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. 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?“).
I found it interesting was Uber’s 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. The references date back all the way to 2013 for Google’s similarly named groups. These cases even mention denominations fully supporting the names Google employees came up with.
So why are these articles crying foul at Uber’s employees’ actions, and not taking pot shots at Google? #clickbait
Why did this happen?
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 people taking things at face value without diving into the source material and coming up with their own thoughts on the matter. Maybe — we’re feeling the long term fallout of teaching regurgitation? If it were only that easy to find.
Is there a moral problem with all this? Absolutely. Is there a legal problem? I don’t know, ask a lawyer. While I’m all for free speech and being able to express yourself; just don’t lie.
People will always do questionable things for money.