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#4: Outragebait is clickbait's potent successor
Why everyone is inadvertently marketing for their enemies...
It seems painfully obvious to me how companies, news organisations, and government entities know and exploit an all-too-human cognitive flaw in how we reason our way through the world. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it - especially in online conversation.
Humans have the cognitive flaw of letting an opinion of a person or larger organisation involved with a topic colour their conclusion in spite of the objective facts at play.
The pattern of engagement goes something like this:
Topic introduced to reader
The reader identifies the entities involved
Favourable/unfavourable opinion formed based on entities identified
Information gathered and filtered to fit the reader’s opinion
This accounts for much of the outrage and shouting into the void we see on a daily basis on Twitter. It turns the platform into some sort of Groundhog Day platform where you can anticipate what tomorrow will feel like on Twitter, probably something like: something happens → people are split over the topic due to the entities involved → they’ll throw insults back and forward to accumulate digital points → repeat again the next day with the same topic if relevant, or a new spoon-fed topic.
Without the scoring system leveraging the worst parts of ourselves, Twitter would be extremely dull. But this is the effective foundation of the platform where participants feel good about scoring points in front of their friends.
Monetise your enemies
Given the factors at play on a platform like Twitter, it makes sense that attention pays off irrespective of whether it’s good attention or bad attention. Nobody knows this better than the Conservative Party.
Caveat: I hate talking politics. I don’t fall neatly into a left or right box and any time I engage, I usually get unwanted attention from either side of the divide. I’m using the Conservatives purely as an example of how people have been baited without realising it. Don’t get caught between points 2 and 3 above. Cool?
This is perhaps my favourite example of outragebait. And I’d go as far to say that this Tweet from the Conservative Party about their Brexit manifesto ended up in more Labour Twitter feeds than Tory feeds by design.
Why? They weaponised people’s inherent need to score points in front of their friends, mainly carried out through quote tweets. Look how sharable it is:
It’s a plastic container that says “oven-ready” on it
It also says “Stick this in the microwave”
It has a hate-figure’s name attached to it
It had people chomping at the bit to share it with their friends to elevate their own status whilst scoring points against those silly old Conservatives who have clearly made a series of gaffes.
Or at least, that’s what happens when emotion takes charge after identifying the entities involved, forming an unfavourable opinion, and rushing to slam the topic. However, if you pause for long enough to question, you’d soon realise that this is clearly outragebait designed to be shared.
Look at what is also included on the image when you zoom in. The designer utilised a typographic hierarchy, knowing that people may only get as far as the headline, to include the manifesto on the tweet which they knew was destined for opposition social timelines. The perfect trojan horse!
The same thing happened again this week when Rishi Sunak shared a QR code on Twitter, and we all had a big laugh about how we were supposed to scan this code when we were already on our mobile devices.
The Tweet has a predictably large amount of quote tweets compared to replies, likes, and standard retweets.
Once again, it appears as though it’s another topic dealt out by an entity who knows the cards that people will play with to use against them in previously inaccessible timelines. The QR code, of course, reveals a cartoonishly bad animation full of Tory party policies. Completely circulated by haters who are unaware they’re marketing for their enemy.
Defence against the dark arts
Outragebait is much more powerful than its predecessor, clickbait. Where clickbait draws readers in, outragebait co-opts the reader into marketing the piece among their friends - there is maybe even a bit of social proof at play too.
Once you see this trick, you start to see it everywhere. I’m not claiming to be any sort of expert, and I’m certainly not claiming to be immune to the emotions and biases that surround many of the topics that ricochet around social media. I just want to highlight this particular one as I was sufficiently spooked after recently writing #3: The Illusory Internet regarding how public sentiment can be designed and deployed at scale, and the fact that few seem to notice outragebait when it’s happening.
Hopefully, if we can get better about pausing when emotion takes charge in the 5 steps at the beginning of this post, then we can see and think clearer to combat being taken in with outragebait with a revised 4 step process of:
This makes for a much cleaner path rather than getting caught up in the muddy thinking around previous associations around individuals and organisations involved with topics. Otherwise, we’ll leave ourselves open to being even more hackable, the deeper we plunge into tribalism and faulty favourability depending on our feelings about the source.
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