“This post will change your life”: How to avoid internet outrage

I hate telling people that I work “in social media.”  They kinda roll their eyes and think, “oh, you conned someone into thinking there’s a science behind posting something to Facebook.”  Yeah, asshole.  I did.  And you conned someone into thinking you could “flip a burger,” or “balance the books of a multimillion dollar corporation,” or “write nation-changing legislation.”

While there is an aspect of my job that is exceedingly easy, I’m often surprised at how little people understand about the articles they are reading.  So many people read the internet in a state of perpetual fury:  “I can’t believe so-and-so said this!”  or “Can you believe…?” or “What a piece of shit article!”

While sometimes this is justified, it’s usually incredibly overblown.  And because the internet is both a sea of anonymous cowards and a massive echo chamber, it’s easy for a debate to descend into bile-spewing outrage.  Here are a few things, from a guy that works on the internet, that can lower your internet blood pressure:

That Offensive Tweet is Not the Company’s Fault.

You’ve heard this story:  someone at the company posts something that is incredibly offensive, and the entire internet explodes with rage.  While sometimes the posts are just incredibly misguided, most of the time, the person doing the Tweeting is a lower level office drone (such as myself) who clicked the wrong button.  Here’s the best example:

Dickish and insensitive?  Yes.  Is it a fireable offense to Tweet something like this?  Certainly.  Should KitchenAid be blamed?  No.

Most social media professionals use one of two tools when it comes to Twitter. HootSuite, and TweetDeck.  They’re great for viewing several feeds at the same time.  I actually didn’t use Twitter at all until I discovered TweetDeck. Here’s what the layout looks like:

It’s super convenient for organizing your threads/lists/@mentions/Direct Messages, and it has an additional feature:  It allows you to post from multiple accounts at once.  Dumb or inexperienced Twitter professionals will often link their personal and professional accounts to the same TweetDeck for ease of Tweeting.  All they have to do is click the wrong button while Tweeting something offensive annnnd now the company has a PR nightmare.

Point being – and I will never say this again – in that scenario, go easy on the company.  As long as they fire the moron right away.

Don’t Base Your Opinion of an Article off of its Title.

On the internet, every successful website is run by whoring, click-baity editors (this site included).  The difference between this (my personal blog) and most other sites, is that I am both the writer and editor.  Usually, they are not the same person.  One of the jobs of the editor is to pick a title for the article that will draw in more traffic.

One of the best sites in the world at producing viral content is The OnionThe Onion lucked into this: their format has long been that their writers will come in and pitch titles, not articles, and then they will write articles for the titles deemed the funniest.  That’s how they come up with stuff like, “Guy Who Thinks He Outran Gorilla Decides to Casually Lean Elbow Against Big Furry Rock.”  You don’t need to write an article accompanying that headline.  It does everything for you.  This translated perfectly to the internet age, where, even more so than in traditional newspapers, the headlines are what determines if an article gets read.

People are becoming more suspicious of Buzzfeed or Upworthy style headlines (Upworthy was founded by Onion writers) as they get better at distinguishing clickbait from things that are actually interesting.  College Humor recently did an article titled “If Popular Books Had Clickbait Titles,” (Charlotte’s Web:  “This Pig is Beyond Amazeballs”), and it’s fairly spot on.

But as internet content writers: we don’t care if you feel cheated.  We know what works.  Lists work.  Nostalgia works.  Covering the page with “Like us on Facebook!” links works.  We just want to get you onto the page.

Sometimes, though, this cheats the article itself.  The best example is Emily Yoffe’s recent, incredibly controversial article, “College Women:  Stop Getting Drunk.”  Basically, the article is about how when women drink, they are more likely to be raped.  Yoffe was nailed in a number of blogs and news pages for victim-shaming when she should have been saying, “Hey men:  Don’t rape.”  Which would all be a fair point, if Yoffe had at a single point in the article said, “College age women shouldn’t drink, and if they do, it’s their own fault.”  Yoffe’s column – while still controversial – is still much more measured than the title suggested.  You can see this by looking at the title that Yoffe originally proposed for the article, still visible in the URL:  “Sexual Assault and Drinking:  Teach Women the Connection.”

The editor’s headline is undoubtedly going to result in more clicks, however, so they posted it with a more inflammatory intro.  Naturally, many people entered the article with a spirit of indignation, and were not interested in what Yoffe was actually saying.  So if you find yourself outraged at something you’re reading, ask yourself first if it’s the article or the title that’s making you mad.

If Your Time is Wasted, it’s Your Own Fucking Fault

One of the things that always boggles my mind is when I write something that doesn’t entertain someone and they get furious at me for it.  My stuff is not everybody’s cup of tea, and if they don’t like me, well, then that’s a bummer, but it’s fine.  Thanks for reading.  Sometimes, though, people are furious that I wasted their time, and will tell me so in charmingly nasty ways.  My worst so far is: “I hope you get AIDS and die in a ditch, you cunt.”

To anyone who reads something they don’t like on the internet, to anyone who is bored by the content they are taking in, to anyone who just doesn’t like that this article appeared on your feed:  it’s your own fucking fault.  The truth is, most successful sites pay out their authors based on pageviews/likes/exposure, so they are compelled to manipulate you into clicking on their article.  They need it to pay for rent.  You should be smart enough to know by now what to click on and what to not click on, and you should know which friends provide you with decent material.

As The Atlantic‘s Alexis Madrigal pointed out, if your feeds are boring, then it’s because you are following boring people.  You can find interesting people, and they will usually serve you well.  The internet has an endless number of tools for finding cool content, too.  It’s not just Facebook.  Give TweetDeck a try. Try TumblrStumbleUpon, and Pinterest.  Put all of your favorite sites into Feedly, or some other type of RSS software, and get all of their material at once.  Organize your feeds.  Put your favorite comedians into a column on TweetDeck.  I always know if Max Silvestri or Charlie Brooker has written something new.

Get organized, assface*.  Otherwise, you only have yourself to blame.

*Also, when I call you an assface, it’s just because it connects with the section of my audience that is confident enough that they are not actually assfaces.  So really, when you take an insult a faceless internet talking head shoots your direction personally, you’re really just revealing that you are an incredibly insecure human being.

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