Clickbait and Switch: How Junk News Sites Influence Young People

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11: Members of the BuzzFeed News team work at their desks at BuzzFeed headquarters, December 11, 2018 in New York City. BuzzFeed is an American internet media and news company that was founded in 2006. According to a recent report in The New York Times, the company expects to surpass 300 million dollars in earnings for the 2018 fiscal year. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In recent months, social media titans have been on the hot seat on Capitol Hill. We’ve seen all the elected officials try to make a name for themselves by aggressively questioning Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey. In most cases, these politicians have shown how little they actually understand social media.

And while these elected officials have been mugging for the cameras on Capitol Hill, online “news” outlets like BuzzFeed, NowThis and Teen Vogue have been brilliantly, strategically and diabolically “informing” the youngest generations of voters. Make no mistake: These sites are an even greater threat to the future of our republic.

BuzzFeed is a news site founded in the early days of social media. Initially, it churned out low-level, easily digestible stories and marketed them to the masses. None of it was political. This enabled BuzzFeed to build a following of millions of people from across the ideological spectrum. Currently it has more than 12 million followers on Facebook alone. Rachel Maddow is lucky to draw 3 million viewers for her MSNBC show. But unlike Maddow’s viewersBuzzFeed’s audience is young and impressionable.

After five years growing its audience with “clickbait” stories, the writers responsible for stories such as, “10 Signs Your Cat is a Wizard” and “Which Disney Princess are You?” decided to report on American politics. “Report” is a polite description of what BuzzFeed began to do. Their stories were so obviously left-wing propaganda that even CNN began to criticize them. (Or perhaps CNN was just upset about new competition in the “fake news” business?)

Soon after, they gained a competitor: NowThisNowThis is essentially a PR arm of the Democratic Party masquerading as a news site. In fact, multiple executives from NowThis News came directly from the DNC, or campaign staffs of Stacey Abrams and Hillary Clinton. College students think they’re reading news when, in fact, they’re reading Democrat talking points. NowThis has 15 million Facebook likes and 2.7 million Twitter followersNowThis Politics has 7 million Facebook likes.

Politifact, to its credit, has corrected their outrageous lies on multiple occasions. During Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, NowThis repeatedly claimed that Trump lied about Bill Clinton signing NAFTA. NowThis’ young readers were not alive for the signing of NAFTA, and I guess NowThis assumes this audience won’t use YouTube to watch a video of Clinton signing the treaty.

Conservatives think their children become progressive because of their professors. But it’s often because of the content produced by BuzzFeed, NowThis and other sites like them. College kids don’t love their homework or going to class, but they do love reading stories on their phones.

While you and I might not take these sites seriously, investors do. By 2014, BuzzFeed was reporting $100 million in revenue. The next year NBC-Universal invested $200 million. NBC also invested in NowThis and announced a partnership with them to create content around the Olympics. Considering how effective these two sites are at getting young people to read left-wing news, this is basically the equivalent of NBC investing hundreds of millions of dollars in College Democrats.

The dangerous players are the ones who share their propaganda with an easily influenced audience. This playbook was perfected by junk-news sites BuzzFeed and NowThis. Each and every day they put out left-wing content disguised as news. And they’re growing rapidly. This week, BuzzFeed announced the acquisition of HuffPost from Verizon.

The first step to solving a problem is to recognize that you have one. Attacking Dorsey and Zuckerberg on Capitol Hill may make for good clips to send to constituents, but it’s not getting to the root of the problem. Accuracy in Media has been exposing these sites and making sure that young people realize they’re being lied to by partisan players. Our activists are holding them accountable for unethical, inaccurate stories.

Conservatives and libertarians must remember that political technology is philosophically neutral. Rather than trying to force apolitical college kids to read bland policy papers or watch overtly ideological videos, we need to shift the fight to the most important battlefield there is—the culture.

Adam Guillette is the President of Accuracy in Media, www.aim.org.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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