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How the King of Clickbait Would Cover the Ugandan Military Crisis Will Give You Rage Sweats

By Dustin Rowles | Industry | December 29, 2014 |

By Dustin Rowles | Industry | December 29, 2014 |

Look, there’s earned Internet virality, and then there’s Upworthy and its lesser, evil cousin Emerson Spartz, a multi-millionaire website entrepreneur who has made all of his money through the the promotion of other people’s content through Facebook. He reposts content from other websites with more algorithmically friendly headlines and he makes millions. You’ve probably been on one or more of his collection of sites, but since brand awareness is such a low priority to him, you probably wouldn’t even realize it (he launched OMG Facts, MuggleNet, and GivesMeHope, among others). It’s, uh, sometimes irresistible. Take this headline, for instance: This Girl is a Twerking God, Except When She Accidentally Sh*ts Herself. Did I click? Yes. Am I ashamed of myself? Absolutely.

But here’s the thing with Emerson Spartz: He has zero connection with his content; it’s all math to him, a means to attain a profit. He does not give a shit — the differences between a cat video and a thoughtful substantive piece do not register with him, except on the ledgerbook. He’s a viral savant, but he doesn’t have a perspective or opinion of his own.

The New Yorker has a fascinating profile on the guy this week, and how he cynically generates revenue by appealing to Facebook’s addiction to uplifting stories. One section stuck out with me the most, and that’s where he was asked how he’d cover the Ugandan militia crisis, which triggered Kony 2012, one of the most popular viral videos of all time.

His response:

“To be honest, I didn’t follow too closely after the whole thing died down,” Spartz said. “Even though I’m one of the most avid readers I know, I don’t usually read straight news. It’s conveyed in a very boring way, and you tend to see the same patterns repeated again and again.”

He went on, “If I were running a more hard-news-oriented media company and I wanted to inform people about Uganda, first, I would look it up and find out exactly what’s going on there. Then I would find a few really poignant images or story lines, ones that create a lot of resonant emotion, and I would make those into a short video—under three minutes—with clear, simple words and statistics. Short, declarative sentences. And at the end I’d give people something they can do, something to feel hopeful about.”

And that’s how you do it, folks. That’s how you take an important story and essentially reduce it to a Facebook meme. How would he cover 9/11? “3,000 people died, but this adorable kitten managed to escape unharmed!” Awwwwww, likelikelikelikelike. Please read our next post, 9 Ways You’ve Been Ordering McDonald’s Wrong.

Source: New Yorker

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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