I have a confession to make. Myself and every other blogger, writer, journalist, and reporter, has been using you. Over the course of this election year and yes, your entire life, you've been manipulated by forces you thought were your allies.
Media, and the Internet as a whole, is a vast landscape of unending content. Just look at how much content is produced in one minute:
In just a single minute on the web 216,000 photos are shared on Instagram, a total of £54,000 ($83,000) sales take place on Amazon, there are 1.8 million likes on Facebook and three days worth of video is uploaded to YouTube. (via Daily Mail)
And that was back in 2013.
That's a whole lot of content to sift through. It's the primary reason Google is so powerful. Instead of having to find the best information yourself, they do it for you. And while that allows them to often rig search results in their favor, it makes it easier for you to find what you're looking for.
With all this unconscionable amount of content being made, it's very hard for websites, like this one, to get attention. Even with quality articles and news, we are frequently lost in the noise of a billion tweets, listicles (yeah that's a real word), and Snapchats.
What is an intrepid blogger to do? It's easy: we lie.
Well, we don't really lie. Good folks like those at Trigtent will always provide accurate content with applicable sources when neccessary. But there are many, many, many websites out there, in an effort to get an unfair advantage, who will use dirty tactics to grab your coveted clicks.
What kind of tactics? Well aside from the annoying clickbait your mom posts of Facebook (Top 10 Reasons Dr. Who is Better Than Star Trek: the Next Generation), a massive amount of the news posts and blogs you'll see today are cleverly crafted to do one thing: make you angry.
There's this psychological quirk that makes humans more receptive to stimuli that makes us angry. It taps into primitive survival instincts that have kept our species alive for ages. When confronted with something that challenges or threatens your way of life, you have to act. Be it a wildebeest on the savanna, or a nasty article about Trump.
Without thinking, we click on that article. And even if we don't read it, the blogger has won. You fell for the bait. You clicked on the link and gave their site traffic. That amounts to more impressions for their ads and increased revenue for the site. And if you read the article and comment below it, you're adding to that website's worth, helping it grow.
Even if you hate it and disagree with what they're saying.
This is an old tactic, even by the Internet's standards. Unscrupulous bloggers love to write gotcha headlines that make you mad. They do this whenever a popular movie comes out (ever wonder why some critics bash Star Wars or The Avengers for little to no reason?) or when big political issues arise (like say, Great Britain leaving the European Union or a U.S. presidential election). The vast majority of these sites don't really care about the issues; you might be able to argue that the writers don't even believe what they are saying. It's all in the interest of getting you to click.
Here is an insightful video that explains some of the mechanics:
Pretty nefarious, huh? I bet you've fallen for this trick many times without even realizing it. "News" sites and blogs spread rumors, hysteria, and false information, waiting for you to share it on social media, just to get eyeballs on their content.
But you may ask yourself, "So what? They get a few clicks. It's not like most people will believe what they're saying, right?"
Wrong. It's far too easy to be duped these days. Despite all our technology, knowledge, and easy access to verifiable data, people continue to spread faulty information.
How many times in the last few weeks have you read headlines like: "PROOF! Democrats Rigging Election with False Ballots," only to click and learn that five ballots went missing?
While I would never belittle the dangers of voter fraud, hysterical articles like this amount to the Boy who cried Wolf, stirring up people over nothing. But then when a real problem arises, everyone will be too burned out to really care.
There is a danger with giving into every rumor, scandal, and supposed controversy you see online. I myself have been burned by click on the wrong article (fuck you Salon. May you rot in hell.). But only until we train ourselves not to give into these gimmicks will they go away.
So what can you do to avoid falling for these charlatans' traps? The best way is to stay offline. Well, that's not going to happen. The next best tactic is to slow down that clicking finger (or tapping finger). Teach yourself to look for the URL of the link before you click. If it's something like www.socialjustnowforever.com, don't click it. If the headline is just so salacious and manipulative that it must be false (PROOF THAT DONALD TRUMPS EATS BABIES), don't click it.
Learn to avoid sites that have burned you before. I have decided to unfollow some of my favorite pop culture, video game, and tech sites, simply because they've burned me too many times. I know that among the semi-decent articles they publish, there are dishonest and manipulative ones. I can't in good conscious support the site with my traffic for allowing blatantly false content.
Develop a healthy dose of cynicism. These manipulative tactics work because we're all too quick to believe someone, especially if it's from someone you know online. Not being ready to believe something, even from a source like CNN or New York Times, will help stem the spread of these toxic articles.
Get proactive about it. When you find a site that publishes good stuff, share it. Start to cultivate good taste. Like someone learning to appreciate fine wine and food, learn to recognize the well crafted, honest content. The more you read that and share it with your buddies, the more people will validate the good stuff, and give up the bad.
It's a war out there, make no mistake. The Internet is the Wild West of the modern day. And despite what Obama says, that's never going to change. Your best bet in surviving this unpredictable landscape is to arm yourself. Not with a six-shooter (shooting your computer helps nobody), but with a dab of common sense and a good deal of stubbornness.