Dylan Tweney
Rough Drafts

When a clickbait headline leads to national outrage.

So Gizmodo publishes a story whose headline reads “Former Facebook Workers: We Routinely Suppressed Conservative News,” and the Internet goes predictably apeshit. There’s just one problem: The story doesn’t deliver what the headline promises.
Dylan Tweney 2 min read
When a clickbait headline leads to national outrage.
The news is dying. Photo: Dylan Tweney

So let’s see if I’ve got this right:

Gizmodo publishes a story whose headline reads “Former Facebook Workers: We Routinely Suppressed Conservative News.”

The Internet goes apeshit, especially the conservative part of it, without reading the whole story, in which it becomes clear that…

Although the headline says plural “workers,” there’s really only one worker, an anonymous one, who is making this allegation, and…

That worker doesn’t allege that conservative news is being suppressed everywhere on Facebook, just in the tiny “Trending News” box, which accounts for a vanishingly small percentage of Facebook’s clicks.

Not only that, another worker (also anonymous) says that there was no effort to suppress conservative news at all. The real problem, that worker says, is that the news staff were treated like crap.

Still, people continue to go ape. The U.S. Senate expresses outrage and initiates a probe into the allegations.

Mark Zuckerberg invites an array of conservative pundits, including Glenn Beck, to a summit at Facebook HQ to hear their concerns.

Glenn Beck comes away from the meeting saying “I heard the complaints, I listened to the perspectives, and not a single person in the room shared evidence of any wrongdoing.”

What’s more, Beck says, the conservatives in that room sounded, well, pretty whiny and entitled. “It was like affirmative action for conservatives. When did conservatives start demanding quotas AND diversity training AND less people from Ivy League Colleges.”

Through it all, Facebook has maintained that there is no conscious effort to suppress news from any point of view.

In short, all this was a huge uproar over nothing. Senate inquiries, conservative outrage, talking points for more than a week, and an enormous amount of static directed at Facebook — the story had all the so-called impact any journalist could hope for.

And yet that uproar was caused by taking one anonymous source’s comments, and, in a headline, highlighting the most extreme interpretation of those comments while pretending that one source was multiple people.

You can see why Gizmodo did this: The headline is catchy, and catchy headlines lead to pageviews, and — since most consumers of news are stubbornly unwilling to pay even pennies for their daily dose of information — pageviews that support advertising impressions are necessary for organizations like Gizmodo to survive.

The problem is that headline is flat wrong, and since apparently even Senators can’t be bothered to read beyond the headline, it kicked off a two-week cycle of ridiculously misinformed and ultimately meaningless furor.

The news business is fucked.

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