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News: Are you part of the problem or the answer?

November 16, 2016

There’s a lot of conversation on Facebook and in the media right now about false, or bad news sources. Facebook and Google have admitted, in a roundabout way,  to being part of the problem.

I want to share my thoughts and some facts on what we’re doing on the internet when we click and share.

When I first started freelance writing back in 2009 I took some work through a site called Elance—it’s one of many online sites where people hire various freelancers. I got a job there, which turned into a longer time contract job with a reputable marketing firm. He was one of the good ones. I also saw people hiring for “good review” writers who got anywhere from .50 cents to a $1 or so, per review, to write reviews about various merchandise. I saw people hiring “writers” to rewrite/spin other writers’ stories—they could pay as little as $5 for a 500 word article and plenty of people bid on those. It’s a frowned upon practice, but it happens all the time. I even saw a man who was hiring someone to act in his name on a dating site, answering the replies and contacting women. I saw any number of questionable writing practices, which look very much like what we’re seeing now.

It’s a good possibility that these “News” sources with odd names and questionable practices are run by individuals driven by the desire to make money, who hire people, often from foreign countries, to take a topic and spin it into what looks like a new story.  ANYONE can buy a domain name for under $20 and launch their own website.

Why? Many of the websites contain ads that are often based on the number of viewers who click the headline-hence the term “ClickBait”. The story doesn’t have to be good—you just need to be duped into clicking on the article because the headline is sensational.

You, the viewer, are merely a vehicle to profit for the owner. I doubt these sites have editors to review content, verify claims being made, or check sources—on the rare occasion that there is a source. It’s mostly a money making device. And for others, with political leanings, it’s all about pushing their agenda, creating a sense of urgency.

When you click on a website, your information can be tracked; the website is placing “cookies” on your computer. They also track when you share their articles. See the links below?

http://  www. nytimes. com/2016/11/16/opinion/the-coal-industry-isnt-coming-back  html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-right-region&region=opinion-c-col-right-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-right-region&_r=0

https://  www. washingtonpost. com/news/early-lead/wp/2016/11/16/multiple-nba-teams-are-reportedly-avoiding-trump-hotels-on-road-trips/ ?hpid=hp_rhp-top-table-main_nba-540a%3Ahomepage%2Fstory

Note: I’ve made the above links unclickable by adding spaces.

Everything behind the “?” is part of the tracking code inserted by the company, or website owner to track which article is being clicked on and shared. They can’t tell specifically who clicked, but they can see how often and where. It’s a useful tracking method that lots of legitimate businesses use, and that not-so ethical people use too. (How do I know this? Because working with a marketing agency back in 2010 we used tracking to show clients where and how their articles were being viewed. And as a WordPress user my statistics show where my readers came from, what articles they read, what links in my articles they clicked on and what search terms got them to my website—all of these happen w/o using tracking codes.)

If you want use one of these links you can edit the link by removing the ? and everything that follows it and still share the same story. It just removes the tracking ability for the group tracking where their stories end up.

Also consider:

When you log in to a site using your Facebook information you’ve just given that site more insight into who you are.  When you use your FB or other social media to sign in for commenting then your face and direct link are available to the site and to every troll-like commenter who sees you.

Does the article give a byline to the writer? Or is it just “staff”?  Ethical websites aren’t ashamed to mention their writers.

Each time you use the internet, everything you click and share is being used to gather information about you. Do you, we, want to give that much information and access to a wider audience for some unknown, possibly unscrupulous website?

Are you sharing to enlighten and inform or are you inadvertently passing along rumors and falsehoods?

So, please think about that. We have enough tension and fear right now—let’s try not to a part of those tactics.




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