On Public Rhetoric and Hate Clicks

There has been a very important (and destructive) development in our public rhetoric, which is not new, but becoming more pervasive: the success of hate-click-inducing articles.

In the economy of the internet, clicks are currency because they represent attention, and attention can be turned into money by way of advertising revenue. It’s not unlike the ratings system of network television. The more people who are watching a show, the higher price that network can charge for commercial time.


Well in today’s world, people are after web traffic, and they will use any and every tactic to maximize clicks. One way to do that is to illicit a reaction. Strangely enough, human psychology is such that a negative reaction is often more apt to produce action than a nuanced or thoughtful take. So people produce content that is intentionally  combative, racist, controversial, prodding and often just plain bad. This induces us to share such bad takes in a sort of “can you believe this person?” way. This in turn encourages the practice, and more extreme views, more offensive content and more bad takes are produced, the creators of which are handsomely rewarded.


This is is a case where the market is tyranizing our civil society and it’s something we all need to stand against. I know the temptation is there to react, to say “I can’t believe this person said this or that” and commiserate with your friends over it.


Please, please resist the temptation. Look for something that moves the needle in the other direction. Reward GOOD writing with shares and commentary and clicks.


I’d suggest a site like this: https://longreads.com

These are well written articles that require a bit of your time, which you will be immensely rewarded for.

Incidentally, the ethics of hate clicks or hate viewing or what we might call hate attention has been present for a long time in documentary film, television and advertising. In the 1980’s magazine advertisers discovered that controversial or offensive ads related to news cycles of the day sold products, and reality TV has been exploiting hate viewing for decades, the culmination of which was the phenomenon we all witnessed in 2016, where these types of attention-grabbing techniques made media companies rich with reality-TV-like Presidential debates.


The tendency to share out of hate or offense is a part of our collective psychology and will not be easy to combat.


But it we must, friends, we must. The health of our culture and public rhetoric depends on it. If you produce content, resist the temptation. If you browse social media, resist the temptation. If you are a writer, resist the temptation. If you are flipping channels on your TV, resist the temptation. Resist, resist, resist.