If You Don’t Know These 10 Things About the Internet—You’re Making It Easy for People to Manipulate You

Most of the internet is trying to manipulate you. That’s the best way for it to make money. And very few people on the internet are going to choose to not optimize for maximum revenue.

So they’ll try … but whether their manipulation works is up to you. Here are 10 things to know about how the web’s fundamental business model.

1. Everything you click on online gives someone ad revenue. The more ads on the page, the more money they get. You don’t have to give them money if you don’t want to.

2. Within the past 10 years, our society has fundamentally shifted from print-based to web/digital-based communications. But many people don’t understand the implications of this shift and keep interacting with the web as if the standards, regulations, & processes with the old system apply in the new one. They often don’t.

3. Without a rich bankroller, most web articles are written in what is basically a competitive sales environment. You have strict quotas to meet & not meeting (or hopefully significantly surpassing) ad revenue expectations means you’re underperforming at your job.

— This is why Buzzfeed, HuffPo, Fox News, & others push out such a continuous stream of content designed to make you want to click.

4. The best way to make someone click is by provoking emotion. It’s why controversies & cute animal videos go viral & nothing else really does. Anger & fear are the easiest emotions to go viral with, which is why clickbait sites focus on them so much.

5. Many of the ads you see are shown to you based on info Google, FB, etc has gathered on you based on what pages you click on & your profile. know what FB thinks your political affiliation is. (See: Cambridge Analytica, etc.)

6. People pay a lot of money to reach specific high-value demographics (by gender, religious affiliation, political affiliations, & specific geographic location, in particular).

— When you see ads, consider what information about you may have let to you being shown this ad.

7. A lot of accounts on FB, Twitter, etc are fake. Don’t trust anything you see online or on social media until you’ve fact-checked it. Know which publications are recognized as credible. If a publication isn’t bothering to pay trained journalists, it’s probably not journalistically sound.

8. Learn the difference between actual “fake news” & how most people use the term. Also learn what clickbait is. Most of what I hear people refer to as “fake news” is actually clickbait. In addition to this, you can’t call something “fake news” just because you don’t like what it’s saying.

9. People have trained in journalists ethics & standards for nearly a century. It’s an important field—widely recognized as acting as a watchdog that helps keep those in power accountable.

10. Around 10 years ago, we stopped paying journalists. Why read something you need to pay for when you can read it online for free? Most of the other journalism majors I know don’t work in journalism today. Very few people will pay you to do journalism. I decided I’d rather pay off my college loans, instead.

I wish people bothered explaining or educating about these changes, but they don’t. It might cut into their profit margins. So it’s our responsibility to educate ourselves.

It’s about learning to see the realities of the world around you, understanding its fundamental business model, & daily seeking to discern where you are being manipulated and why. (We all know TV ads are trying to manipulate us. We just need to bring that sense of skepticism & vigilance to everything we read. On the entire internet.)

Beth Douglass is a Master of Divinity student at Princeton Theological Seminary. She’s a former digital content specialist and editor of SPU Voices, a Seattle Pacific University web publication whose development and launch she oversaw. In 2018, Beth won a CASE District VIII Grand Gold award in Electronic and Digital Media and earlier in her career, she once garnered 948,000 unique visits to her web content in one week. Beth can clickbait almost anything, but would really prefer not to.


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