Viral news consists of messages that reach the majority of internet users. They almost always circulate through the major social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. This kind of news is known as “viral” because it behaves in the same way as a virus. It passes from individual to individual, in the same way as a contagious disease. It spreads quickly and becomes big news.
In theory, any news item of general interest or relevance should go viral. However, sometimes the most important information is left behind. On the other hand, there are news items that are much less important, but do achieve unexpected interest and circulation. The worst part is that many of these items are lies or so-called ‘half-truths’.
Bombarded with news
The information industry now uses advanced algorithms to try to reach as many people as possible with relevant news. Whenever you log into a social network, you are giving them information about who you are and what you like. Without even asking, you start receiving all kinds of news. Sometimes because someone shares it with you, sometimes because it appears in your cyberspace.
Before you know it, you’ll get information about a singer who gets a passionate kiss from a fan, an actor who is in divorce, another who is getting married or a football player who has decided to change his haircut. Without realizing it, you end up in a news network that you had no intention of getting involved in. It was smart enough to grab your attention, but it only gives you information that doesn’t interest you. The networks give you the chance to click on a link and what you don’t realize is that you are helping them make money.
But how is this goal achieved? How do the networks create this irrelevant information and make it irresistible? They do this like this:
Viral news: a market based on headlines
There are several studies that show that most readers focus on the headline and first paragraph of the news story to determine whether it will be of interest. People who write the headlines know that very well. They know that a reader will read or ignore a news story, depending on how appealing the headline is. It’s not uncommon for the same news with a different headline to attract completely different readers.
A special mention deserves the so-called ‘clickbait’ headlines. They will use statements like, “You won’t believe what happened to this man when he opened the door to his house.” Instead of giving you the information, they hide it from you. And if you bait (bait) picks and clicks on the head, you will discover the amazing news that the man’s cat was asleep on the couch.
All you do is click…
Once the networks have caught your attention and you wonder why that news is news in the first place, you realize that the information you were curious about isn’t at the beginning of the article, but at the end. All they are trying to do is maintain or even increase your interest to keep you reading.
Viral news headlines don’t try to sum up the gist of the news in one sentence. All they want is to get you interested so that you keep reading. All they want from you is a ‘click’. Every click means more money for them. Most of these eye-catching headlines usually don’t hide anything out of the ordinary. The news is often not even true.
It is clear that viral news stories use this questionable way of presenting information. It is also clear that many readers are cooperating with this. Though they suspect there’s nothing surprising behind the headline, they can’t resist the temptation. This is something advertisers know well, and they stick to these methods. They know that the readers can get angry if they realize they have been manipulated. They also know that they will likely get over it soon and fall for it again.
Other ways of manipulating
Exaggerating and cheating with headlines isn’t the only method used in viral news. People in the industry study the behavior of their consumers very well. One of the things they have discovered is that many people are prone to nipping at other types of bait as well.
One is to make use of images that impress, both photos and videos. A graphic photo of someone right after a serious accident is included as an added bonus. The industry tries to pique the morbid side of a reader and often succeeds. They also know that most of their users are bad readers. They don’t think twice about withholding the headline’s most important information.
The networks also have no problem lying to achieve their goal. Sometimes it is an open lie, such as saying that a famous person has died without it being true. Other times it is not a direct lie. All they want is for you to open their page so they get their money.
Anyone who clicks on these viral news items can get a very wrong picture of reality. They could also get a taste of the morbid things in life that will ultimately only impoverish their minds and lives. The success of the viral news industries has been so great that the traditional media itself has started using some of their methods. It’s a new form of semi-slavery that we help fund.