Gawker (et al) Are Not Your Friends

When was the last time Gawker media did anything nice for you?

People tend to talk to gossip news media companies on the internet like they might have lost their virginity to them. They very well may have—an empty surf session around Jezebel while lying on the mattress or in the parking lot reading tweets from Gawker —but it's a one-way relationship. Your sister's face has never appeared on a Gawker website - unless she had her private iCloud nude images hacked - but Valleywag and Buzzfeed and motherfucking The Verge show up in the same streams as your loved ones.

This is the business model of the internet news media companies. Someone has to attract all the clicks that allows the plummeting banner cash to generate income. They will not only lead with what bleeds but also run with anything salacious, inaccurate, fear-mongering, scandalous and so on with the motto 'run it now, correct it later for more clicks'. They put Fox news to shame, finding drama in the bottom layers of the internet to create trumped up headlines with, scouring Reddit for animated gifs and gossip. We at Adland are still of the opinion that Buzzfeed and friends are poisoning the well, dragging all the journalistic standards down with them.

The latest disaster is both the funniest and the saddest. Those in the know could sit back and eat popcorn while watching it unfold, as Jace Connors / parkourdude91 did to Gawker, what Gawker did to Coke. He trolled them. He trolled them so hard.

Sam Biddle at Gawker wrote about Parkourdude91 in The Psychopaths of GamerGate Are All That's Left, and They're Terrifying, stating that "the very obviously disturbed man says he was on his way to confront Wu", as he had watched the same skit we all have seen, where Jace actually crashed his car and flipped open his cellphone to ad lib a rant next to the wreck while in character. Jezebel soon reported on the same video: "A Man Is Making Bizarre, Terrifying YouTube Videos About Brianna Wu". Brianna Wu took the skit so seriously she had a judge grant her a restraining order to protect her from a fictitious person.

Ficticious? Yes it gets better, you see, Jace Connor is a hoax, his real name is Jan Rankowski. Anyone hanging around chans already knew this was a notorious comedian and the hilarity lies in the idea that someone could be this nuts. You could feed him junk on live shows and he'd run with it, acting the perfect mentally stunted individual. Buzzfeed finally caught on, and published an interview with Jace Connors in "GamerGate’s Archvillain Is Really A Trolling Sketch Comedian", explaining that Jace had been kidding about everything and everyone - but he now wanted to stop because "he himself is afraid for his safety".

In an exclusive interview, Rankowski told BuzzFeed News that he intended to satirize “the over-the-top, super-hyper-macho armed GamerGater” but that harassment in recent days, as doxxing forums and GamerGate image boards have started to suspect he is behind the Connors character, has left him terrified.
“They realized I was making fun of them with those videos,” Rankowski said. “I started it as a joke, but it’s become far too real and I wish I could take it all back.”

Of course, this is even juicier, someone pretending to be a gamergate psychopath is just a trolling comedian, but now he's afraid of those gamergate psychopaths. So of course everyone had to write a new round of stories now, SMH Australia ran with Man who terrorised video game creator Brianna Wu now says it was a 'joke', linking Jezebel and Buzzfeed. The Verge headlines their article A violent, delusional Gamergate psychopath is actually a comedian's terrible hoax. And thus now the whole world knew that Jace Connors was afraid of Gamergate.

Meanwhile, I'm still eating popcorn. This is truly trolling as high art. David Auerbach of Slate called this already in October, this is indeed a troll’s paradise.

What's been lost in the friendification of clickbaity news-sites is that by their very nature of clickbaity-ness and being first to post, these news sites are diametrically opposed to our interests as humans. They exist solely to distract, deceive, and manipulate us out of our time, not to inform us. Rushing to publish, news has now become a race, and even established news sites run with what was already published elsewhere, since they no longer have the time to fact check, confirm, or speak to anyone. Trolls used to be something for the internet underbelly, not the front page, and perhaps now you realize why. Jan Rankowski isn't afraid of gamergate, but that was the button to push to get his character Jace Connors written up in the Sydney Morning Herald‎, the Washington Post, international Business Times and The Mary Sue where they conclude he's "still an asshole". Indeed.

Social media will always be an incongruous and gross place for clickbaity news sites to mingle, because all clickbaity news sites are inherently psychopathic.

In all seriousness. Advertising has a lot of responsibility for this situation. When the subscription model died, the click-model won, and as banners are now bought by eyeballs rather than by site. Brands are buying to be seen based on users cookies, rather than trusted bylines, and content providers are chasing keywords rather than news. Brands have been buttering up bloggers from well back in the hobbyist days for organic mentions in posts, to today when the blogs themselves are seen as journalistic news outlets in every way. I've always wondered, why sponsor a show, when you can own the channel?

You are in control of what you read in your own social media channels though, and it may be high time you de-friend and unfollow the news resources who are more National Enquirer bat boy reporting than actual news. You can't be their suckered clickbaited income generating unit if you don't pay attention to them.

* p.s. I've been on the internet since before Eternal September. When I use the term "troll" in regards to someone on the net, I mean it by the original definition.
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Ausyarr's picture

Apart from consumers dropping sites like them the only fix I can see is google analyics reporting back bounce rates and user interaction with the sites and then making it super cheap to advertise on those sites and more expensive on sites with better user interactions. Click bait will still work but there will be an incentive to making articles that keep readers engaged.

Dabitch's picture

That's not a bad idea at all. I believe that could work. Since Google practically has a monopoly on internet advertising, if they implemented this the effect could be seen quite soon.

KiTA's picture

Wouldn't they just spread the article across 9 pages like those huffpo galleries instead? Each would count as a click.

lol's picture

"The Eternal September" lel

Joe E's picture

You might enjoy reading Bovy's reaction on TNR concerning Daily Show's Jessica Williams and Ester Bloom.

She explains feelings journalism, "An unfortunate media trend", further on her personal blog. If the heart of a story is based purely on thoughts and feelings projected by the author, you are witnessing feelings journalism. No matter how good their intentions are, like Bloom's were regarding Ms. Williams, it's ultimately counter-productive. Why not have an interview and *ask*, or analyze, or research - You know, anything journalists did before social media. (Not to answer my own question, but budgets and time.) And no - reading a bunch of tweets or angry emails ain't research, it's consumption.

Fabulous Buddha's picture

It has always disturbed me seeing the number of activist friends of mine passing along articles from Buzzfeed or Jezebel. While I am sure there are good writers at Gawker, Jezebel, Buzzfeed, The Verge, et al, the institutions that chase ad money to the detriment of facts. It isn't wrong to adapt to be more profitable (this is why we're seeing so many newspapers tank, because they've become too invested in outdated models), but the thirst for which these publications chase for the eyes of the internet-addicted, young, liberal crowd wholly betrays liberal values. Their authors may parrot liberal talking points, but their drive for clicks leads them into, as you say, a "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality. Facts come second to outrage and attention.

I am thankful for these trashy publications though, they've fundamentally changed how I consume information. Knowing how writers are compensated at many of these sites, I reserve my click for only the best pieces or block sites entirely. While "distraction tits," a lascivious title, or "hate bait" may have tempted me to click, I now remain steadfast. The internet, much like the late 19th and early 20th century, is going through its yellow journalism phase. Consumers need to realize that, to all these publications, our eyes are the prize. So, I ask that if you want to improve internet journalism, do not sell yourself short.

Mi's picture

Sam, "lets bring back bullying" ( on Spirit day) Biddle? Oh well that title says it all as far as bias goes.

Socash's picture

I would just like to state that Bat Boy was in the Weekly World News, which was a periodical that does not deserve to have its good name dragged in the mud with the likes of buzzfeed, gawker, and their ilk.

kidsleepy's picture

ha ha ha ha ha. +1