Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Troll Economy

Q: What do you get when journalists get paid by the number of pageviews their stories generate?

A: The Troll economy.

Not to sound like a grumpy old man (though I am) but what passes for journalism has sunk to a new low.  As far as I can tell, headlines are now chosen based on their ability to inflame the reader enough to post an outraged tweet...thereby producing additional traffic and hence revenues.

Exhibit A is this Business Insider article, "A Lot Of People Think Elon Musk Is Already Greater Than Steve Jobs Ever Was."  While I humbly request that you not click the link above, I included it for completeness' sake.  To limit the damage, I carefully made it a "nofollow" link to avoid giving those vampires any of my Google juice.

This work of "journalism" uses Quora answers (!) as the basis for its assertion.  The headline is technically true (one answer praising Musk over Jobs has over 3,000 upvotes) but enormously disingenuous.

The only reason the article exists is to spark outrage.  I saw the headline on Twitter and had to restrain myself from responding; by triggering my fury and disgust, BI nearly suckered me into adding to their traffic.

On the one hand, I have to admire the savvy of tapping the seemingly endless power of social media's love of futile, passive-aggressive outrage.  On the other hand, there's only so much attention to go around, and every second of my time or yours that gets spent on trolling headlines, deceptive slideshows, and anything Kardashian is a valuable resource wasted.

P.S. This is not a criticism of Elon Musk, who is a brilliant entrepreneur (and an affable host at a dinner I attended a few years back).  I'm simply sick of the absurd steps the online press takes to provoke a response.

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