The internet is killing us.
It hasn’t been a swift death, like something inflicted by a trained, Jason Bourne-like assassin. Rather, it’s been happening slowly, over the last 15 years or so. Death by inches. Or comments.
It’s the tired cliche of the frog being boiled slowly to death…
…except we’re the ones who keep turning up the heat…and we’re the frog.
It started when blogs were invented, allowing anyone to post anything about any subject — a person, a political situation, their own life.
When comments were added to blogs, the digital necrosis sped up.
Now with social media, we’re approaching the terminal stage of the disease. We all carry weapons in our pockets, and I’m not talking about guns.
I’m talking about our phones.
Essentially, anything and everything can be shared. Photos, articles, sound files, music, petitions, and a million other digital items can be instantly splashed on the internet and shared with thousands of friends.
You would think this would be a good thing. The democratizing of information and such.
But I’m increasingly convinced that it’s significantly hurting those of us who follow Christ (and everyone else, but I’m concerned primarily with Christians here).
I realize that this sounds crazy alarmist, like a guy on a street corner proclaiming the end of the world. You probably think I have a bulletin board in my house with news clippings pinned to it and pieces of string connecting the clippings.
But I’m not crazy. At least I don’t think I am.
Let me explain.
My Life In The Digital World
I’m writing this as a Christian who lives every day smack dab in the middle of the internet.
Most people don’t know this, but my I’m a full-time freelance marketing writer. Lord willing, I will someday have the opportunity to go back into pastoral ministry, but at the moment, this is where God has me.
I’ve also been blogging for over 10 years, and have seen up close how it’s changed.
When I first started, there was no social sharing. Facebook was relatively new and Twitter wasn’t even on the map yet. Instagram and Pinterest were still several years away.
Because of my job and my history, I understand how the internet (e.g. Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) works. I spend a lot of time trying to understand how the internet ecosystem functions and what will help my clients get visibility for their brands.
Here’s what you need to know: it’s intentionally designed to kill you.
I’m not kidding.
Everything Is A House Of Cards
The very structures which sustain sites like Facebook and blogs like Breitbart and The Huffington Post (it doesn’t matter which political spectrum you’re on) are dangerous.
Let me break it down for you.
Don’t get bored here, because this is really important and it touches you EVERY SINGLE DAY.
99% of large websites make money from advertising. These sites get paid either based on the number of times an ad is viewed or clicked.
This means that the more page views they get, the more money they make. This is why so many sites spread their content across multiple pages. They want you to see as many ads as possible.
Even more critically, this reality determines the type of content they post on their sites.
They want to publish content that will get TONS of page views. They want their content to go viral, and they make publishing decisions based on what they think will get the most traffic.
What types of content get the most traffic? Think about it for a second. When you’re scrolling through Facebook, what jumps out at you? What do you click on? What do you share?
If you’re like most people, you share things that get an emotional reaction from you and will probably get an emotional reaction from other people. Boring stuff doesn’t get shared. Well-reasoned, middle of the road pieces die in obscurity.
Shock and anger and snark get attention and Likes and shares, but not reasonableness and thoughtfulness.
A study by the Marketing Science Institute all the way back in 2010 confirmed this. First, they noted that positive news tends to be more viral than negative.
But then they said this:
Brand transgressions that evoke anxiety or anger, for example, may be more likely to be shared than those that evoke sadness; this suggests that companies may want to take a more active role in managing situations that evoke these emotions.
Did you catch that? Sadness won’t get shared, but anger and anxiety sure will. And I think this is increasingly true. The alt-right massively capitalized on this in the 2016 election, using anger and anxiety to help fuel Donald Trump’s win.
Here’s what all this means: In order to survive, websites need to constantly publish content that will provoke heavy emotion. Be controversial or outraged or hilarious or sexual.
But whatever you do…don’t be boring.