Sunday, 23 December 2018

What is ... Rage Sharing?

It's been known for a long time that headlines are the most important part of a news story.

Even in the time before social media it was obvious that far more people would see the newspaper headlines (on newsagent shelves, or on newspaper reviews on the TV, or on the canteen table, or on the next week's chip wrappers) than would ever actually read the contents of the article.

But since the advent of social media, headlines have become even more important because there are loads of people out there who will share articles without even bothering to read them first (especially via Twitter retweets), and other people who are so fact-averse that they'll form extreme political judgements based on the headline of the article that they've clearly not even bothered to read.

Some of the most mega-viral articles of 2018 have been astoundingly misleading anti-Corbyn headlines that are completely contradicted within the body of the article, but literally tens of thousands of people became so outraged by the deceptive headlines that they shared without even bothering to read the article and check that the headline is justified.

This behaviour is "rage sharing", and mainstream media publications are cashing in on it big time with absolute torrents of shares and clicks (the currency of online journalism).

Apéritif: Aren't biffers gullible?

I'll come to the two desperately misleading anti-Corbyn headlines later, but just to illustrate that rage sharing articles without reading them is not a new phenomenon, just consider the fact that in 2014 the extreme-right hate group Britain First shared a spoof story about the Essex villages of High Easter and Good Easter being forced to change their names by pesky Muslims and lefties.

Hundreds of Biffers rage shared the article and spewed bigoted badly-spelled diatribes in the comments without even bothering to read the article and clocking that it was a ridiculously obvious spoof which included quotes from people like "Dr Touchi" from the prestigious "University of South Thurrock"!

Independent: Corbyn the immigrant-hater

June 2018 saw a truly egregious examples of rage sharing with over 31,000 people sharing a grotesquely misleading headline in the (supposedly left-liberal) Independent that brazenly cherry picked highly selective quotations from a Jeremy Corbyn speech about trade policy to portray him as some kind of bonkers hard-right anti-immigrant Brextremist.

This outrageously deceptive headline struck a chord with the self-declared "centrists" (orthodox neoliberals to give them a more accurate description) and the ever-reactionary #FBPE Twitter echo chamber.

It was absolutely clear that very few of the people rage sharing the article were actually reading it, otherwise they couldn't have failed to spot the brazenly dishonest selective quotation tactics, or the fact that Corbyn's trade policy speech was actually pretty good.

Guardian: Corbyn the militant Brextremist

In December 2018 The Guardian jumped onto the rage share bandwagon with a brazenly deceptive anti-Corbyn headline of their own that was so widely shared by "centrists" and the #FBPE echo chamber it almost broke Twitter with a mind-boggling 88,000+ shares (at the time of writing).

Literally thousands of people reacted in absolute "never voting Labour again" fury to the headline "Corbyn: Brexit would go ahead even if Labour won snap election" without a single one of them picking up on the crucial facts that:
1. The words "Brexit would go ahead" were plucked out of thin air by Guardian hacks and placed next to Corbyn's name in the headline (amazingly he's not actually quoted saying this anywhere in the article).
2. What Corbyn actually said was common sense. If he won a snap election he'd go to the EU and establish basic stuff like whether they'd consider renegotiation, and whether they'd extend the Article 50 deadline. Anyone who thinks that upon becoming Prime Minister he shouldn't attempt to establish the EU's position on the drastically changed political circumstances as a matter of urgency is quite frankly out of their god-damned tree.
3. If you've got the patience to read all the way down to paragraph 18 of the article you even find Corbyn expressing his view that if there's another EU referendum then Labour's policy would be decided democratically by its members (meaning Labour would back Remain whatever Corbyn's personal beliefs!). Surely an article saying "Corbyn keeps second referendum option on the table" would make a less misleading headline than a phrase Corbyn didn't even use designed to make it seem like he's arbitrarily ruling out a second referendum entirely?
Profit and propaganda

It's absolutely clear that the corporate media are learning that there's a significant market in anti-Corbyn rage share articles with headlines that bear little to no relation to what Corbyn actually said.

In fact the liberal mainstream media and the anti-Corbyn mob seem to be developing a kind of symbiosis.

Outlets like the Guardian and the Independent benefit from absolute torrents of shares and clicks when they use deceptive anti-Corbyn headlines, and the #FBPE echo chamber, Labour right-wingers, and other Corbyn detractors get the instantly shareable anti-Corbyn headlines they constantly crave.

Stuck in the middle

The big loser in the scenario (aside from Corbyn and the Labour Party of course) is the standard of political discourse that is now not only polluted by the lying Brextremists and the absurd unicornist fantasies they've fostered amongst their herd of followers, but also by equally extreme people on the Remain side who have no qualms whatever about sharing desperately misleading headlines, or even just outright lying, if they feel that doing so serves their political purposes.

They're either such gullible dupes that they mindlessly rage share articles without even reading them to check that the headline is justifiable, or they know perfectly well that the headline is deceptive but they share it anyway because they consider their political agenda to be far more important than stuff like truth, honesty, and integrity.

Either way their attitudes are just as bad as the Brextremists who got us in this mess in the first place.

How is rage sharing a deceptively titled article without even bothering to read it first any better than believing a lie on the side of a bus? And if they do know that the headline is deceptive but they're sharing it anyway, how is that any better than actually writing a lie on the side of a bus?

Who needs bots?

We're all aware of social media bots by now. Whether it's dodgy Russian bot farms spreading divisive propaganda, pro-Israeli astroturfing operations, or the bot nets that the Brexiteers ran during the 2016 EU referendum.

But who actually needs bots to spread their propaganda when it seems incredibly simple to just trick a vast army of unthinking, uncritical real life human drones into rage sharing your political propaganda for you?

There's a massive propaganda war going on, and the footsoldiers are an enormous army of absolute dupes who are so intellectually lazy they don't even bother to read the articles they share or think about things for themselves.

Rage sharing is here to stay

Had the Guardian chosen a reasonably fair interpretation of Jeremy Corbyn's position as their headline rather than deliberately seeking to portray his stance as negatively as possible (as some kind of rigidly inflexible Brextremist absolutist) they know for a fact they wouldn't have triggered such a tsunami of rage shares.

As far as they're concerned, if blatantly deceptive headlines create enormous torrents of shares and clicks, then sod journalistic standards and sod what remains of the Guardian's dwindling reputation, let's cash in on the rage shares and grab as much advertising cash as possible as the torrent of hits floods in.

If tens of thousands of people are going to send your article mega-viral by rage sharing it simply because the misleading headline confirms their political biases, and nobody is ever going to hold you or them to account for spreading such a vast barrage of deceitful and deceptive propaganda, then why wouldn't other unscrupulous mainstream media hacks make use of exactly the same tactics?

What is ...? is an occasional Another Angry Voice series. See the other articles here.

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