Clicks Have Consequences

When you clicked this link to get to this article – or when you found it in a google search – you informed a whole bunch of people about that choice, and in essence, even before reading this article, you cast a vote to say “make more headlines like this” on the Internet. That vote, informs me, the editor of this blog, to write more articles like this if I want more traffic.

So imagine if that was the most important thing informing my decision on what to write about: writing a headline that would get you to click, or one that would end up being the top result of something you’re searching for. If that was all I was in to, I’d probably test this headline with another – say “Kittens have Consequences” to see what would perform the best, and draw in the most overall search and click through traffic. All those clicks and searches provide meaningful data that can then tell me what it is to write.

This is what I mean when I say that “clicks have consequences”: our information diets online have an ethical consequence to our social community. By watching video of the adorable kittens or by reading online that story about the Kardashians, you’re not only doing yourself a disservice, you’re actually telling editors to write more stuff like that, at the expense of other stuff. The ethical consequences of a poor information diet are more direct and immediate than the environmental consequences of eating meat.

Here’s what happens, for instance, when a major news service, catering towards a right of center audience in the United States, starts employing these tactics. The AP releases a headline that says: AP Poll: Economic Worries Pose New Snags for Obama, and Fox changes it to AP: Obama Has Big Problem with White Women. This isn’t because Fox wants to advance a conservative agenda nearly as much as it is that Fox figured out a headline that will get its audience to click on it, and thus, be able to deliver more advertising to those that click on it. Fox is an easy example, but there are scores of examples from both sides of the fence, all doing the same kind of thing.

This is the reason that my book, The Information Diet opens with this quote:

Jobs was right. And now that we’re living with SEO, Click Optimization, real-time analytics, personalization, and multi-variate testing, every click we make and every search we use is a vote – not just for more content like this to be put in our own filter bubble, but to be injected into others too. While your boss might not know you’re reading that Kim Kardashian post on the Huffington Post, by clicking on it, you’re all but assuring it gets in front of her eyes, too. Filter bubbles are contagious.

This isn’t something I say to scare you or fear-monger you into behavioral change. Rather, it’s good news because the solution is simple. If you want better content and better journalism, you have the ability to make it happen. Consume consciously and deliberately select your information providers, and make the media chase after you.

Get the book