Viral News – How we are Manipulated

February 14, 2018

Viral news items are the ones that reach the widest area of Internet usership. They nearly always circulate through the major social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. This type of news is known as  “viral” because it behaves in a similar way to a virus. It passes from one individual to another, in the same way that a contagious disease does, and quickly spreads and become massive news.

In theory, any news of general interest or with sufficient relevance, should go viral. However, sometimes the most important information lags behind. On the other hand, there are news items that are much less significant, but reach an unexpected level of interest and circulation. The worst thing is that many of these items are lies or so-called “half truths”.

“A newspaper always has the same number of words, whether there is news or not”.

-Henry Fielding-

Bombarded with news

The information industry now uses sophisticated algorithms to try and get relevant news to all the people they can. Every time you log in to a social network you are providing them with information about who you are and what you like. Without asking for it, you start receiving all kinds of news, either because someone shares it with you or because it appears in your cyberspace.

Before you know it you’re getting information about a singer getting a passionate kiss from a fan, an actor who is getting divorced, another who is getting married or a soccer player who has decided to change his hairstyle. Without realizing it, you end up embroiled in a news network you didn’t plan on getting involved in. It was clever enough to get your attention, but it only offers you information that doesn’t interest you. The networks get you to click on a link and what you don´t realize is you’re helping their business.

But how is this goal achieved? How do the networks make up irrelevant information and make it so irresistible? This how.

Viral news: a headline market

There are several studies which show that most readers are especially focused on the headline and the first paragraph of the news item in order to determine if it’s going to be of interest. This is something that people who write headlines know very well. They know that a reader will either read or ignore a news item depending on how attractive its headline is. It isn’t unusual for the same news, with a different headline, to have a very different readership.

We should give a special mention to the so-called clickbait” headlines. They’ll use statements like, “You won’t believe what happened to this man when he opened the door of his house”. Instead of giving you the information, they hide it from you. And when you take the bait and click you discover the amazing news that the man just found his cat asleep on the sofa.

viral news

All you do is click…

Once the networks have captured your attention, and made you wonder why on earth that is news at all, you realize that the information you were curious about is not at the beginning of the article, but rather at the end. All they are trying to do is maintain or even increase your interest just to keep you reading.

Viral news headlines don’t attempt to summarize the gist of the news in a single sentence. All they want is to get you hooked so that you carry on reading. All they want from you is a “click”. Each click means more money for them. Behind most of these eye-catching headlines there is usually nothing special, and the news often isn’t even true.

It is clear that viral news makes use of this dubious way of presenting information. And it is also clear that many readers play along with them in this. Although they suspect that behind the headline there is nothing surprising, they can’t resist checking out the page that gives the news. This is something advertisers know well, and they persist with these methods. They know that the reader might get angry when they realize they have been manipulated. They also know that they’ll probably get over it quickly and fall for it again.

Other ways of manipulating

Exaggerating and deceiving with headlines is not the only method used in viral news. Those in the industry study the behavior of their consumers inside out. One of the things they’ve discovered is that many people are prone to bite other types of bait.

viral news

One of these is to make use of graphics that impress, either with photos or videos. A graphic image of how someone’s guts were removed is included as an additional bonus. The industry seeks to arouse a reader’s morbid side, and it often succeeds. They also know that most of their users are poor readers and they don’t think twice about keeping back the main information from the headline.

Nor do the networks have any problem in lying to achieve their purposes. Sometimes it’s an open lie, like saying that a famous person died without it being true. Other times it is not a direct lie. The only thing they want you to do is to enter their page and then they’ll receive their money from it.

Whoever clicks on these viral news items could begin to get a very wrong idea of reality. They could also start to get a taste for the morbid things in life which will only end up impoverishing their intellect and their life. The success of the viral news industries is so great that the traditional media themselves have begun to use some of their methods. It is a new form of semi-slavery that we are helping to fund.