LIVING THE DREAM: Column One

LoudwireBy STEVE MASCORD

TRAWLING through Facebook today, I found a paid post by the music news website Loudwire. “Very sad news for¬†Marilyn Manson”. it read, with a link to the site.

“Oh right,” I thought,, “I wonder….” Hang on …. no, surely not. They’re not…. really? Yes they are folks: Loudwire were using the death of the rock singer’s mother, Barbra Warner, as click bait.

For the uninitiated, it works like this: you’ll remember the days when headlines told you what was in a story. Sometimes, they even said things that weren’t, or were barely, in the story. That practice has been getting journalists in trouble for a century or more.

But now, in an environment where no-one is buying papers and journalism is collapsing, the trick is to pique the curiosity of the readers on social media to such an extent that they cannot resist visiting the website being promoted by clicking on the link, hence the term “click bait”.

The number of page views dictates the fee charged for advertising and the fee charged for advertising dictates whether the site is profitable, the reporters get paid and the relevant information is disseminated.

Another post on Loudwire‘s Facebook page reads: “Foo Fighters are full of surprises these days, including one very big one over the weekend! Details here:”

The death of Marilyn Manson’s mother, to the chimpanzee churnalist sitting in Loudwire‘s office, was no different to Dave Grohl’s latest song, video or reality TV show. You just apply the formula: leave out the most important fact and people will come to the site in droves. That’s social media doing its job: you don’t give away that which you are selling, do you?

I complained.

“Guys this is very distasteful click bait. To use the death of someone’s mother to get a page view by withholding information in a facebook post is, at best, a serious misjudgment, and at worst morally bankrupt. Where will all this end?”

And later, also from me:

“Imagine a photo of four kids and a heading ‘one of these children was hacked to death” you gotta click to find put which one, giving the website a page view. THAT’s where this is heading unless some decency is applied.”

My comment was liked 230 times. That made it the top comment, giving it a prominent display on a post that Loudwire pinned to the top of their page because of its popularity. They did not change the tasteless wording of their post; my criticism of it was helping it attract even more “engagement”!

I’ll let that sink in: a media outlet has been called out for immoral behaviour. Hundreds of readers agree. The outlet highlights the criticism without responding to it – because the criticism simply attracts more readers.

That’s the world we now live in. For all the disdain of traditional media, this sort of amoral, exploitative behaviour would have a newspaper, radio station or TV network severely censured. But for social media, any publicity really is good publicity: venom and hate grease their wheels much more efficiently than praise. Websites and Facebook pages simply don’t care; they are malevolence incarnates.

Every person that challenged me in the comments under the Manson story, I engaged. I tried to explain click baiting … over and over again. Louis Minnett seemed to think I was accusing Manson himself of exploiting his own mother’s death by writing and posting the item himself.

Loudwire are in charge,” I responded.¬† “How stupid do you think I am? That Marilyn Manson goes posting stuff on music news websites? Helloooooo….”

Then I received a response that stunned me almost as much as the post’s crassness. It’s a comment that made me think social media will eventually become an intellectual ghetto, where the anti-social and gormless will be left to canibalise each other in a sort of electronic leper colony.

Jay Padalecki: “ha…..Steve…..you’re so smart…Steve Mascord for president…..steve posting “stuff” on Facebook. Hellooooooo….”

In other words, if you’re so smart, why are you interacting with idiots like us? Leave Facebook to me and my fellow imbeciles…..”

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A QUICK note about this column.

I am 45. I’ve never been married, have no kids, no car, no mortgage. Pretty much everything I have ever done for work, I would have done for free. I am abiding loyal to one person above all others: my 18-year-old self.

I try to make him proud every day. I do not save, I currently do not even pay rent in any one place, let alone own property bigger than that couch I have in storage.

I have an idealistic perspective on just about everything. I expect people to tell the truth, do what’s fun above what is profitable, try to get the most out of life, and be vitally interested in others.

I think I probably revel in my own naivety. I see the world very differently than you do.

Yet all I have ever written about is rugby league and rock music. So this column is about everything else. If you think I’m selfish, say so below and I’ll write a column about it. If you think I’m going to be lonely in old age or that I’m sad or shallow or naive or stupid or ugly or a loser … great topics for the next Living The Dream.

I might not be living the dream. I might be dreaming my life while you’re living yours’ … in which case, you can help me grow up.