How You Can Fight the Power of Sensationalist Media

Last week I saw the Weather Channel refute an article from Breitbart because the infamous publication had manipulated their data to deny climate change. Similarly, PBS published an article dismissing the claim that Hillary Clinton had won 56 counties in the U.S when she had actually won 487. There are also comedy sites such as The Onion, Clickhole, and Andy Borowitz's report for The New Yorker who say false things as a means for social commentary (and for the laughs). The problem has surfaced though, particularly in our current divisive political climate where everyone has clung more fervently to their side, of false information spreading rapidly on the internet through social media. There's always been lies in politics and business, but now the lies can reach millions with a swiftness unforeseen prior, and unless people follow up with further inquiry, they will fall prey to the propaganda.

So what's our advice for readers?

Don't buy into it by simply not clicking. If it has a sensationalist headline, or relies on superlatives, something claiming that it’s the “best ever” or “worst ever,” or something that’s not true (I saw clickbait today that said, “Cardio makes you fat”), just don't click. Don’t give in to the same curiosity that makes us slow down to watch a car wreck. The site is just trying to make money on AdSense and sponsored articles. The more you click, the more money they make, and you’ve only incentivized their behavior, because all they care about is the numbers of their traffic. Even if you know the article is a lie, they still make money (all they care about) and get to continue spreading their venom. Their analytics don't know how you feel or care what you really think.

What's our advice for content creators?

Instead of lying and manipulating, seeking instant gratification by trying to get as many clicks as possible on this one article, how about you have some patience and consistently produce thoughtful content (The New York Times was established in 1851—it took them time to get this renowned)? Trust that if you have something to say and you’re good at saying it, that eventually, believe me, your work will catch on. Have some patience, and integrity, and play the long game. Have enough respect for yourself and others and believe that they don’t want to be lied to; believe that they seek something meaningful, something real and true. Content that provokes them to think, not just react.

Also, if you want to write opinion pieces, that's fine. Have your opinions—as crazy as they may be—and back them up with the data that you feel is convincing (preferably verifiable and measureable data). But don't act like you're journalists when you're only opportunists. At that point, I’d ask myself, “Why am I even doing this? Am I adding any value to the world?” Who even knows if you'll be writing in ten years?

Here are a couple tips:

Don’t use overstatement simply to elicit emotion in readers. For example, don’t say something is “countless” when you can clearly count it. Don’t say it’s the “worst ever” when there’s no way to even measure this. What does “worst ever” even mean? Worst for who? When? Worst how?

Whatever the article is about, let the title announce that. The title should be related to the subject of the article.

Fact check. Is what you’re saying true in any way?

Ask yourself, “Is this piece saying anything original? Does this need to be said? By me? Now?”

If you have any other questions, please let us know. Or contact us here.