I started writing professionally back in 2005 and used to run one of the biggest conservative Facebook pages in America before Zuckerberg and company deleted it and cooperated with the New York Times to do a hit piece on me (incidentally, there’s a lot of false stuff in the article, so don’t take it to heart.)
Because of a number of factors, most particularly social media, the media has changed for the worse in almost every way imaginable over the last 15 years.
Why do I pin that on social media?
Because I understand how it works on a high level.
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Like I used to tell the people that worked for me, “You’re competing with the hottest new music and cute kitten videos, so every story needs an emotional hook.” Why does a story need an emotional hook? Because if it makes you feel something, you’ll click on it.
Oh and guess what? I tested it over and over and what I found is that people didn’t click on feelgood stories. They didn’t click on stories that challenged their views. They didn’t click on dry, but important news stories. So, what did they click on? They clicked on stories that made them ANGRY. That UPSET them. They also seemed to like stories that confirmed their existing biases in some grand way.
At the time, all of this seemed kind of harmless because we were an alternative news source competing with mainstream media organizations that had hundreds of staffers and hundreds of millions of dollars. So what if we focused on revving people up for clicks? Surely, they’d never do the same things that we did, right?
Wrong. Today, they all use the same tactics we used 5 years ago with one crucial difference. They care even less about whether they get the story right. Granted, we used to make mistakes on occasion. That’s what happens when you’re running on a shoestring budget and don’t have legions of people checking over every story. The New York Times, the Washington Post, MSNBC, etc., etc., DON’T CARE whether their stories are accurate. This would have been scandalous 5 years ago, but it’s standard operating procedure today because they’ve learned they pay no price for being wrong. People may deny it, but their audience wants those “feels” more than they want the truth. It doesn’t matter how many shady stories based on anonymous stories they run that ultimately don’t pan out, it matters that they made people FEEL each time they did one of those stories.
Those stories get amplified by social media algorithms designed to keep you engaged and on the website. The longer you spend on those websites, the more buttons you push and the more ads you see, the more money they make. Unfortunately, as we discussed earlier, what do people click on? What do they show up to read? Stories that made them angry, that outrage them, that confirm their biases.
A little of that is okay. Living in it, especially on social media websites that literally spend millions of dollars tweaking everything imaginable to increase the time you stay on their website is not healthy.
It promotes the most extreme views. It takes the worst people, places, and things in a nation of 328 million people and puts them front and center for everyone to look at it. Some hick in Oklahoma drops an N-bomb? Some Karen in Orlando yells at a kid opening a lemonade stand? Some generally unstable political commentator gets coked up and says the craziest sh*t you’ve ever heard? Those are the things put in front of you BY DESIGN, every day. There’s no context. There are no competing facts. There are no statistics showing you how common or uncommon these things are. The limited “fact-checking” that is done is horribly biased in and of itself and even if it wasn’t, the real problem isn’t fake news stories being spread by social media, it’s the applications working exactly as they’re intended to do.
Do you think that is healthy for you as a human being? To feel outraged multiple times per day, week after week, year after year because some person you don’t know did something to some other person you don’t know in someplace you’ve never been according to someone who doesn’t care if what they’re saying is true? What’s good for the bottom line at Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, the New York Times and jackasses trying to offend you for fun and profit isn’t good for you as a human being. It can raise your blood pressure, stress you out, makes you feel under attack, and cause you to dislike people who’ve never done anything to you. It is not good for you to immerse yourself in that every day.
You’ve undoubtedly seen someone say this:
Well, the corollary to it is that if you’re getting outraged multiple times per day or even multiple times per week, you’re doing something wrong.
Understand how these people are making money and don’t play into it. Don’t stay on social media all day. Don’t be part of the rage mobs. When you start to get upset, ask yourself whether you’re being manipulated because most of the time, you are. Go in a different direction for your own sake and you will have a better, healthier, happier life.