by Kevin Galvin
Depressingly it seems that aggregation websites on the web are our present and our future. In Ireland alone the likes of Joe.ie and its sister website Her.ie receive over 3.7 million unique views each month (About the population of the country at the turn of the millennium) and are added to by the likes of UniLAD and the LAD Bible invading our news feeds and infesting our social media sphere with their seemingly endless torrent of regurgitated dross.
These sites and their unfortunate writers (who probably at one stage dreamed of being prominent journalists) dredge the internet for the most shocking, disgusting, spectacular, attention-grabbing stories; then coolly steal them to increase their own hit count, and generate further ad revenue whilst possibly adding a casual ‘hat-tip’ at the end to cover their own backsides for any potential plagiarism cases.
They are starting to grow exponentially, as the average internet user’s short attention span and easily distracted nature means people are now clicking on their content direct from Twitter or Facebook instead of taking the time to find it themselves. It seems that years of online procrastination has meant that we now behave on social media like domestic pets, easily diverted by whatever shiny set of keys our owner wishes to distract us with next.
This overflow of buzzfeed rubbish, combined with the awful decision Facebook made a few months ago to have videos automatically play, has led to a total clusterfuck of the average news feed. One can’t log in without being bombarded by the latest videos of mutated children in Palestine and yet another tiresome goal vine from 2002, with a list of ’29 reasons why your boyfriend’s friends secretly hate you’ wedged in between. While on Twitter endless retweets of pitiful accounts echoing the same jokes over and over again (mostly in a pathetic attempt at irony) have led to countless unfollows on my part. Twitter is, at least, thankfully easier to moderate.
However, there are far more serious consequences to this culture of hit whoring. These sites, constantly trying to outdo each other, are always looking for the best way to get you to visit, and the line of journalistic and professional integrity are being pushed further and further back. This excellent piece on ‘The Daisy Cutter’ about Manchester United fan and vine sensation Andy Tate shows just one of a plethora of examples where ‘news’ sites like the aforementioned LAD Bible have jumped on the exposure of an ordinary working-class person for the exploitation of, as the Daisy Cutter describes, snobbery.
This same snobbery has facilitated the massive success of MTV shows like Geordie Shore and loathsome teenage pregnancy programmes, where the ordinary person can tune in and feel a twisted sense of smugness as they watch and judge the protagonists, safe in the knowledge that they would never act or drink or shag like them.
This same snobbery has led to the repulsive double-standards of a world in which we pretend to stand up for those with mental illness, or fight for the acceptance of our body image, while at the same time posting countless memes and jokes about plus-size Gemma Collins’ size, someone who has already had the guts to publicly admit her weight problems. But SHE’S A CELEBRITY so it’s different right?!
This same snobbery has led to the type of attitude prevailing in society (spoken about at length through a University context in another excellent article by Brendan O’Neill in ‘Spectator’) in which one may only possess an opinion if it’s in line with as O’Neill describes ‘The prevailing group-think’. Unless you’re pro-Gay marriage, pro-choice, pro-Feminism (and by this I mean actively call yourself a feminist), or know exactly when your opinion is ‘allowed’ (like in the case of the abortion debate O’Neill describes) then your opinion is out dated, uneducated, and unrequired.
And yet, despite our attempts to be as developed and measured as possible, the social media sphere we have created still resembles that of a primary school playground. Everyone’s trying to shout the loudest to get themselves noticed, and if you can earn respect by doing a neat trick (or in the case of UniLAD just bullying until people have to listen) then yours is the voice that will be heard. Friends are hoarded in followers and egos massaged by retweets or favourites or likes. This constant search for internet attention is why we see people do appalling things (remember the girl that ate her own tampon?) just for a fleeting moment of attention, instead of being content with who we truly are and developing the talents we do have to the best of our ability.
These buzzfeed sites are only further deteriorating this problem by appointing themselves the leaders of the playground, expecting people to perform at will so they can profit off their talents. At the end of the day these companies are not press outlets, they’re not looking to investigate our societal problems or make the world a better place, they’re just content to slap up an unsolicited picture of a member of the public, let the readership enjoy their ridicule, and profit from the hit count.
Meanwhile we continue to turn off our brains when we get online and fail to make the real connection between what happens online and in real life, just like in the case of Andy Tate. We fail to see how these sites are facilitated by our curiosity combined with our laziness, and how the online society we have created allows people to benefit from their keyboard anonymity. We need to start opening our eyes to this deplorable cyber space we have spawned, and how it’s only reflecting the very real societal issues we have.
It’s not difficult to change this. Refuse to click on a Joe or Her or Balls.ie link the next time you see it, you’ll find out a lot more in a half-second Google search yourself. Question yourself on social media, and ask why certain kinds of bullying are so acceptable when we pretend that we’re fighting against it. Have an opinion, your opinion, whether it’s popular or not, and stick by that opinion, they define you as a person. Read some articles that don’t begin with the words ‘X amount of reasons why’ or ‘You’ll never believe…’
And maybe only then will we really see what the internet has to offer.