If it Bleeds It Leads: The Anatomy of Click-Bait

Of the trends of the past decade, one of the more noticeable is the public having access to everything they have ever wanted in terms of media consumption. The typical person is not more mature at media selection than the typical eight-year-old is at snack selection. I haven’t touched Cheetos since I hit puberty but, in my time, I ate a lot of them. I don’t eat any junk food anymore. I try to avoid junk media but other people don’t. Most adults don’t realize that there is a negative psychological and moral effect of media on themselves. They assume that once they become an adult, that everything is permissible. So, they dive into anything that their neurochemicals have the strongest reaction to without self-discipline to enjoy subtler and deeper audiovisual fare.

                The effect of this is that every headline has to be click-bait. Given how people select their media and how that media, in turn, affects their cognitive biases, it creates a warped reality. I’ve written in earlier articles about my issues with the True Crime and Horror genres. They are a part of a broader trend toward gorier, more erotic, and bloodier media. If it lacks sex, violence, or something salacious then the algorithms remove it from the feeds. This has been a major issue since the inception of cable television. It used to be that there were three commercial networks plus PBS. There were no parental controls so everything was relatively mild. Like it did with suburbia, the internet took everything wrong with cable news and made it worse.

                It created different realities for different people. In an earlier article, I wrote about the Balkanization of human relationships through the new media. The media itself has been Balkanized, too. The realities that it creates are less mundane and more exciting than reality. As stands to reason, since they are exposed to the media minutely with their phones and all of that media is exciting click-bait with the bleeding, semen-filled, stories, they come to see the world they live in as more exciting than it actually is. Not more exciting in a good way, mind you. They’re not living in a world with a Thoreau-like sense of wonder at the grandeur of nature and find the simple joys of human connection to be heartwarming. No, more exciting in the sense that they usually want more pedophiles, murderers, stalkers, and anything violent, creepy, and scandalous.

                For different people this means different things. Politically, for the right-wing, this means the Deep State and fears about socialism and for left-wing, it means corporate conspiracies and cheap low-blows about Republican mishaps. Before I was banned from the Daily Kos, almost every headline in the sidebar had some stupid Trump-trashing phrase with an all-caps word and some exclamation points. There was a scary tsunami of authoritarian nationalism and liberal democracy collapsing the planet over and on the highest-ranked left-wing blogger website, nothing about it ever trended. I wrote about political philosophy and the trends of nationalism and authoritarianism and I trended once and that involved Coronavirus, anti-vaxxers, and autism ergo it had click-bait pizazz. Although, it barely trended when it did.

                That is to say that not only is the world constructed by the targeted media more darkly exciting than the world actually is but that it veils the broader and actually very not mundane truths. The fact that authoritarian nationalism is rising to the detriment of liberal democracy is very exciting but it’s not sexual, violent, or scandalous in a way the National Enquirer or Nancy Grace would understand that word to mean. Walter Cronkite may have reported on it but it’s not going to make it on Twitter or Facebook. That’s wrong for multiple reasons. First, it’s wrong because it’s wrong because the truth and knowing it has value regardless of whether knowing it has material effect. It’s also wrong because if someone less of a showman than Trump wants to compromise the judiciary, it might not trend on social media and most people may be unaware that it’s happening.

                That’s not to mention the other effects like people being more afraid of strangers. Statistically, Zoomers are more afraid to interact with strangers than pervious generations. This is for many reasons, some of which I mention in my last article about the sociological effects of the internet, but one of them is probably the barrage of fear-porn the media vomits out ever second. The crime rate is down significantly over the past few decades, sexual harassment standards have strengthened, and strangers are probably safer to talk to now than ever before. With the caveat that they’re more awkward and shaky due to pandemic levels of anxiety and depressive disorders. The number of murderers in fictional universes and on shared news headlines is much higher per capita than in reality but if people spend half of their lives in that alternate reality then strangers become much scarier.

                A culture where people live in perpetual fear of each other is wrong and has a myriad of ill symptoms I need not include here. Yet, the worst symptom is that when people are afraid of each other more they love each other less. Combined, with the Deep State, impending Stalinism, pedophiles, murderers, and all of the fears people are addicted to. They are losing their liberal democracy and becoming morally worse people by loving less and being dumber which is immoral. I hate to add to the fear-mongering, yet, living in a dictatorship of dumb people obsessed with the juiciest and shallowest fruits of pop culture is a dystopia of a malevolence to rival Orwell’s but without the grandness and class and, instead, a diffused sadness and patheticness.

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