Tag Archives: internet

Politics & The Act of Clicking

You may have heard this before, but in today’s world, the most powerful currency you have is your attention. It’s also the thing most internet content producers (*waves* Hiiiii!) covet: to know that, for a few moments at least, they have your undivided attention. Websites use metrics like “unique visitors” and “time spent on page” and “shares” and “likes” and “friends” and more to quantify the size, demographic and engagement of their audiences. And in the case of for-profit websites: your Facebooks, your Huffington Posts, your random looney conspiracy theory sites – these metrics translate directly to ad sales. Hell, even unprofitable outfits like mine benefit from being able, for example, to pull in sponsors for blog posts, or prove to theater companies and authors that I have readers who’ll pay attention if I review their product/ions. And if you’ve ever seen me go ballistic on poor customer service or a bad product (Aereo, anyone?) you’ll know that social media reach tends to be helpful in those areas, as well.

Which brings us to the question of how websites get these clicks. In some cases, they’re purely organic. People list a search term and Google points them at my site. Some people click through from my Facebook page. Others have subscribed to the blog, or follow me on Tumblr or Twitter (most of my hits come from Twitter).

Once in a while, a random reader will repost or link to my site and suddenly I’ll see a surge of traffic – examples of this include my post about Amanda Palmer’s fundraising efforts, David Tennant’s accent in the US series of Broadchurch, or my essay on how much I can’t stand the Hunger Game novels.

Now, here’s the thing. While I don’t run this blog directly for profit (though there is that donate button in the upper right hand corner, hint hint), many websites are profit-generating machines. The Gawker family of sites, Buzzfeed, and others far more offensive – they’re notorious for “clickbait” article titles – titles that try to lure in readers by posing inflammatory questions or statements. You click, they get another unique visitor, their readership numbers go up, and they look more attractive to advertisers. While you don’t fork over cash to read their content, you do ultimately compensate their efforts with your attention.

Screenshot 2014-10-18 12.40.01

A screen grab from the Jezebel article on one toxic website; this link directs the reader to a separate write-up on the topic — one that doesn’t take place on the individual’s website.

Which brings us to what I’m going to call toxic clickbait. This goes beyond the annoying top-twenty lists that make you click through fifteen slides of celebrity haircuts instead of featuring them all on one page (more pages, more clicks) and beyond news-neutral articles from hysterical hate-spewers masquerading as news organizations, and involve people actively posting inflammatory, offensive and outright disturbing material for the purpose of getting as many clicks as they can. Even when this is a secondary purpose, and they actually believe the garbage they’re spewing, the mere act of clicking on their page actually helps support what they’re doing.

We talk a lot about affecting corporate ethics with our dollars – boycotts of socially liberal or conservative businesses, supporting small or local operations, etc. – but what people don’t talk so much about is affecting the tone of discourse on the internet, in whatever minor way possible, by consciously and actively deciding what we support with our clicks.

This was all brought up the other day when a friend posted a horrible and offensive piece she’d found from a horrible, offensive blog, talking about why women with tattoos were worthless, damaged “sluts.” She posted it on Facebook with a comment about how awful it was, and before you knew it, there were a dozen or more comments from those of us who read it and realized the post had been made by someone who was not only a deeply disturbed misogynist, but who was probably profiting off our outrage. After the first handful of comments, a few people started chiming in with admonitions not to click the link – and the discussion turned instead to sites that critiqued the piece and other posts made on the same site.

Most of those critiques refrained from posting links to the article in question, although many referred to it by name. Why? Because most people are too lazy to go to Google and seek out an article that isn’t right there for them. Which, in these cases, and in my opinion, is a good thing.

Not citing the piece you’re writing about or commenting on is antithetical to most of us who grew up writing in hyperlinkable text. And yet, there are some pieces and people that are just so toxic that to direct others towards them is just spreading their pollution. What’s more, people who are used to having rational, informed debates and engaging in discourse with those who don’t agree with them are trained to consider both perspectives, so deciding not to click on a potentially offensive story seems like playing the ostrich; sticking your head in the sand and just ignoring the problem instead of engaging it head-on.

And yet there is no way around it: avoiding engagement of any kind with toxic sites might be the only way to deprive them of the “oxygen” of unique page visitors, and the only way to ensure their writers don’t get rich off the bile they choose to spew.

It’s a problem I really don’t have a solution to: “spending” my attention on sites one agrees with only contributes to the increasingly narrow set of views we’re all exposed to, creating silos and echo chambers and over-curated content streams. And while many of us enjoy reasonable discussion with those who don’t agree with us, being exposed to new points of view and considering the perspectives of others, it’s hard to tell whether the “opposing side” is willing to have a civil conversation until you’ve already started to engage with them.

How do you handle the darker side of internet opinion pieces, websites and political arguments? And I mean the really ugly stuff: misogyny, racism, homophobia, toxic nationalism, class prejudice…? Do you avoid it entirely? Do you read links from The Daily Mail and shake your head? Do you pass links on to your Twitter followers and Facebook friends in order to shred the “arguments” put up by bigots and monsters? How do you balance talking about issues that need to be called out with not supporting those who spread hate?

I’m interested in hearing how others deal with these issues; if you have any thoughts or want to talk about how you approach the political act of following hyperlinks to toxic clickbait sites and other “hate speech”-style articles, please share in the comments.

(Note, please, that that is decidedly not an invitation to post toxic content. I will be the judge of what constitutes toxic content. Toxic content will be removed.)

Within that framework, I look forward to hearing from you.

4 Ways To Screw Brands & Influence Metrics

I just learned something big, folks, and I want to share it with you. Because we’re friends, and because I think it’s hilarious.

Twitter users have long seen the advertisements that pop up in our streams. Framed as “Promoted” or “sponsored” tweets, these can be anything from Walmart touting their friendly business practices to BP talking about what a good job they’ve done cleaning up the Deepwater Horizon spill to Seaworld protesting the documentary Blackfish. They can also include political messages, ads from mom & pop stores and more.

It turns out that the brands only pay to pollute your stream when you engage with their message:


promoted tweets only cost money if you click, favorite, retweet or reply

As someone who generally clicks “dismiss” when obnoxious advertisers force their paid tweets into my sightlines, I now realize I’ve been going about this all wrong. The key isn’t to wipe the brand off my timeline, it’s to engage with the brand so I cost it some money.

Now, every time you engage with a brand, you run the risk of spreading their message, so let’s look at the pros and cons of each method of engagement:

1. Retweet

I think this one is a bad idea. It sends the offending brand message out into your timeline, subjecting your followers to their message and potentially making it look like you want more people to be aware of the ad they’re pushing out. Since they don’t pay unless your followers then interact with the message, it gives them some degree of free advertising, depending on how far your tweets reach and what kind of user you are. For social influencers, this can amount to giving a fair amount of free advertising. If you want to run ads for other companies on your feed, that’s fine, but at least go to a site that’s going to pay you for your tweets, and see if you can get money from brands directly.

2. Favorite

This is one of the least obnoxious ways of engaging with the message. Click the star below the tweet, and voila, you’ve just cost a huge corporation some money! Sure, it may only be a few cents (or a few fractions of a cent), but every little bit helps!

3. Reply

This is my favorite tactic, especially when I’m in a bad mood. For example, every time I see a paid tweet from Seaworld denigrating Blackfish as propaganda, I write back asking why, if the facts in the documentary aren’t true, Seaworld hasn’t yet sued the filmmakers for libel. Sometimes I even put a period in front of the tweet so that, while it’s still a reply, my followers can see me engaging in this way with the brand. Good for as many hours of fun as the Seaworld social media team has to give!

4. Follow

I’m not entirely clear on how this works: do you have to follow the brand for a given amount of time? If you follow, unfollow and re-follow, do they have to pay twice? Obviously one doesn’t want corporate doublespeak filling up one’s timeline, but if I get an offensive promoted tweet from the NRA or a right-wing conservative PAC, I don’t mind following them for a minute or two, then unfollowing them, if it means using up some of the Koch brothers’ money.

Now, I’m not going to go as far as to advocate the creation of sock-puppet accounts solely for the use of trolling major brands and costing them money, but if you’re interested in throwing a monkey wrench into the metrics these companies are using to suck up your time and attention, it might be worth a laugh to futz around every now and again with the four metrics mentioned above.

And of course, the follow-up question is…do the same rules apply on Facebook?



[Subject Redacted] [See: CISPA]

StopCISPA - simple graphic

I’m sorry. Today, I was supposed to be announcing the winner of the Hot Mess/Earth Day 2013 Giveaway. While I’ll be contacting the winner privately today, the announcement has been put off till tomorrow, due to CISPA’s passing in the Senate last week.

For more information on the idea of a general blackout, consider reading this PC Mag article.

Last year, it was SOPA and PIPA that threatened freedoms affecting web communications.

This year, CISPA has reared its head. This legislation has already passed a vote in the Senate last week.

In the simplest terms, CISPA will make it legal for the federal government to access information about what you do online without a warrant.

If you’re a US citizen, please contact your representative in congress and let them know you want them to vote CISPA down.

And just in case that doesn’t work, contact President Obama and let him know that even if the bill passes through congress, you expect him to veto it and protect our privacy and security.

For those of you waiting on the Earth Day Giveaway results – they’ll be up first thing on the 23rd. Thank you for your patience.


More reading:

CISPA amendment banning employers from requiring you to give your social network passwords, blocked. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/21/cispa-amendment-facebook-passwords-blocked_n_3128507.html


Zombies for Sale!

Art by Nick & Miranda Doerfler

Like Zombies? Want to help raise money for a good cause?

Miranda Doerfler and I have co-edited a short collection of Zombie Haiku, by internet users from around the world. The collection was published yesterday, Friday the 13th, and is now available on Amazon, Smashwords and in hard copy on Createspace.

  • If digital isn’t your thing, you can buy a paperback copy of the collection from CreateSpace for $6.99.
  • Own a non-Kindle e-reader, or like reading things on your computer? Then Smashwords is where you can pick up a free-range e-copy in multiple formats for just $.99.
  • Tied to your Kindle? We’ve also made a copy available for Amazon Kindle users, again for $.99.

Miranda did a brilliant job putting the final product together and (with her brother, Nick) on the artwork. The range of poems each writer submitted were so much fun to read and work on, and the collection is really, really fun to read.

Part of the proceeds will be donated to Doctors Without Borders. So it’s not just about having a good time…it’s always about helping to save the world!

Want to buy a copy, but need some guidance on formats? Comment below and I’ll help you get it sorted. Authors who have not yet received a code for their free copy (available from Smashwords) should get in touch with Miranda or myself and we’ll sort you out. 

HE GOT MY EYEBALLS! Effective Targeted Marketing Online

This morning, I re-downloaded RedditIsFun for my latest replacement phone.

After installing and activating it, a message popped up: the developer, “just one guy,” had built in a pop-up that offered the user a choice of whether to allow a single ad per post at the top of each screen. In the pop-up, the user is also informed that the ad option can be toggled on and off at any point in time.

This came hot on the heels of a conversation about how Twitter has started pushing ads from streams its users don’t follow into their twitter streams. On Twitter, my response is to block the twitter account of the corporation that’s paid Twitter to impinge on my eyespace.

With RedditIsFun, I clicked “okay.”

I don’t normally subject myself to ads, because the average American already sees thousands per day – and living in Manhattan, I’d guess my daily average is compensating for the other tail on the bell curve – but here, I agreed. If the ads are obnoxious, I’ll turn them off. If not – if the developer of RedditIsFun is selling his adspace smartly – then I’ve now agreed to see what he’s schilling as a way to help subsidize my use of his program.

So rather than being met with annoyance, his advertisers might actually find themselves making sales to an interested member of their target market.

Smart sale of adspace means I don’t want:

– Ads that demean women.

– Ads that condescend to their viewers.

– The same ad over and over again. (Yes, Hulu, I’m talking to you.)

I do want:

– Ads for products and services that actually interest me

When an advertiser hits the sweet spot and finds their targeted marketing, their ad dollars can be incredibly productive. Last week, I attended the Barefoot Wine Beach Rescue at Rockaway Beach off the back of my Klout score; I connected with like-minded individuals, did some good for the environment, drank free (and tasty) Barefoot Cuvee, and both tweeted and blogged about the event. Win-win-win-win-win. So I’ll buy into a targeted ad scheme that results in advertisers subsidizing an app that gives access to one of the most useful websites currently out there.

So there you go, indie developer. You got my eyeballs. What are you going to do with them?