Online media is utterly broken

I am pretty annoyed by the state of online media right now. Large parts of the online media landscape are completely broken.

You probably did hear about the guy allegedly named “Phuc Dat Bich”, who apparently struggled with making Facebook believe that this is his real name? Of course you did. This story was covered by hundreds of online news outlets, the usual suspects as well as reputable ones. Probably you also heard that everything was a hoax. Of course you did, this again was covered by hundreds of sites.

Google News

Thousands of writers, editors, social media managers all over the globe have spent an estimated total of 1000+ hours to cover an utterly meaningless story which, to top it all, turned out to be bogus. A thousand hours that could have been invested in serious, essential and forward-thinking journalism. But no, Phuc Dat Bich promised more page impressions (= ad revenues) with less effort.

Some might see a deeper meaning behind the hoax, since it emphasizes issues with Facebook’s real name policy. While that might be correct, I doubt that most of the articles covering the incident have been motivated by anything else than the “funny” name and its viral potential.

While there are exceptions, a large part of today’s online media is almost entirely in the business of stealing people’s time. It’s not in the business of journalism, nor in the business of finding the truth, but in the business of procrastination, of getting people addicted to junk-food-like content, and also in the business of misinformation.

Populist politicians like Donald Trump have by now figured out that today’s media environment actively encourages them to say the most absurd things. Because everything catchy enough to go viral is being spread by an army of writers and social media optimizers. By the time there is a solid rebuttal, the crowd has already moved on.

It’s ugly to watch, it is manipulative, it is toxic to the profession and credibility of real journalism, and over time, I am afraid it’s even a threat to the cultivation of a well-informed public. Without a well-informed public, democracy cannot survive.

Because of the poor state of online media, I have zero sympathies for the industry’s lament about ad-blockers. Those who show such a disregard for good ethics, so little interest in quality, and care so little about their readers, do not deserve to survive.

The online media landscape is in a phase of transition. Fortunately! Because its current state is horrible.

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