- Internet & the Web
Are Blogs Evil?
I recently read the book, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, by Ryan Holiday. This book is about his experiences behind the scenes in the world of blogging and PR, and how those mediums work. It exposes how readers are constantly manipulated by online content in an effort for blogs to drive traffic and page views. Although there are millions of blogs out there, Holiday mainly refers to larger blogs such as Gawker, Business Insider, Politico, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post and Drudge Report because those are the most widely read by the media elite and have significant influence over what becomes news. Below are a few of my main takeaways from the book.
- Bloggers trade up the chain - Every blogger is under immense pressure to produce newsworthy content under extremely tight deadlines. They must write several times a day. So bloggers scour the web, social media and other blogs to find topics to write about. Their sources become these non-traditional sources, and ,because bloggers are under such immense pressures to produce content, they rarely take the time to fact check their sources. This process of "trading up the chain" allows something to turn out of nothing. A media manipulator can place a story with a small blog with very low standards, which then becomes the source of a larger blog, and that, subsequently, for a story for larger media outlets
- Blogging economics - Publishers make money by getting traffic on their site. Each click is money into the publisher's pocket. Therefore, it does not matter if the reader is genuinely interested or just perusing. Every decision a publisher makes is ruled by one rule: traffic by any means. This could mean fake scoops, fake exclusives or any story to garner reader attention, even if the source is questionable
- Bloggers are poor - Bloggers are overworked, underpaid and under constant pressure to produce a lot of buzzworthy content. Therefore, bloggers are incentivized to write bigger, write simpler, write controversially and with as little work as possible. Their paycheck depends on it
- Bloggers want news that spreads, not what is good - The more an article spreads, the more money a publisher makes. According to a study done by the Wharton School of Business, the most powerful predictor of what spreads online is anger. Additionally, emotions such as fear, excitement and laughter also drive clicks (sadness does not - nobody wants to share a depressing story). However, not all news evokes these emotions. Therefore, bloggers spin the news and try to find angles to evoke these emotions
- Bloggers trick their readers - Do I think bloggers are really evil? No. However, I entitled my article with a loaded question to elicit more page views. Bloggers are competing with the rest of the internet to get page views. Therefore, they spend a lot of time perfecting the headlines in order to draw readers in. For example, loaded-question headlines such as, "Is Sitting a Lethal Activity" are extremely popular because they draw the reader in. While the answer to this is, "no of course not", by posing the headline as a question rather than a headline guards the blogger from being wrong. For example, a blogger could not write an article entitled "Sitting is a Legal Activity" because he or she would be wrong.
One thing I want to make clear is that this is not an attack on all blogs. I read a number of smaller blogs that are informative and where the authors have a genuine interest in informing the reader. This article was written to expose the general reader to the manipulations of the internet industry to increase traffic and money in their pockets at the expense of the reader. Readers beware!