Last month, Buzzfeed officially launched in Australia. Viral content machines like Buzzfeed, ViralNova, Upworthy or the appropriately named Distractify churn out or recycle stories designed for sharing on social media.
Buzzfeed has long been the Mecca of celebrity glamour shots, useless quizzes, and animals doing cute things.
Now we can also enjoy more Aussie headlines, such as ’29 people who will make you proud to be Australian’, ’21 reasons Karl Stefanovic is the greatest Australian journalist of all time’ and – my personal favourite so far – ‘16 spectacular dicks on the Herald Sun‘ (NSFW).
To celebrate the launch of Buzzfeed in Australia, I’ve put together a list of my own – ‘5 ways Buzzfeed is making you stupid’.
1. You don’t want to click it, but…
Article titles are carefully designed to spark our curiosity, resulting in super-tempting headlines. So we click, but the content rarely lives up to the promise of the title.
My spare time is precious and I don’t want to waste it by taking the quiz ‘What Australian city should you actually live in?’.
I understand this quiz is not going to be a robust psychological test using ‘big data’ to match my responses to economic, environmental and lifestyle factors in each Australian capital.
No, it’s a waste of time and I have a deadline to meet… but, hang on… I’ll be back in just a sec…
Hobart!? Are you goddamn kidding me… Hobart?
I’m a Demons supporter and AC/DC is on my Spotify playlist! Can’t they tell I’m a sophisticated, latte-drinking Melbourne urbanite?
Seriously Buzzfeed, you don’t know me at all.
2. It’s infecting your ‘real’ news
Ok, yes – even when newspapers were published on stuff called paper, many of us still turned directly to the sport section or the comics.
But with everything now online, we are presented with a more blended ‘entertainment’ and ‘news’ offering. You can go directly to the fun stuff without having to turn back to page 1 to consume your politics or foreign policy vegetables.
Fairfax headlines such as ‘Jennifer Lawrence has the best reaction face to seeing her new BFF’ and ‘What movie is right for your relationship?’ demonstrate how viral sites are influencing even our best Australian newspapers.
It’s a desperate race for ‘shares’, and…
3. You don’t share your vegetables
I get it, ‘Thousands flee Syrian town’ doesn’t quite have the same, ‘I’ll tell my friends’ viral quality as say, ’22 TV characters we want to have a drink with’.
We share the funny stuff, the mind-blowing or the feel-good. We share stuff that fits our political agenda, especially if there is an election on.
So if you’re sharing it, then surely you’ve read it, right? Wrong.
Tony Haile, CEO of web-traffic measuring company Chartbeat, tweeted this month: “We’ve found effectively no correlation between social shares and people actually reading”.
— Tony Haile (@arctictony) February 2, 2014
4. You don’t really read it
Teenagers these days are so busy Face-chatting or Snap-booking selfies of their private parts, they don’t have time for in-depth analysis on the overvalued Argentinean currency.
I’m not saying they should care about this issue specifically (although many analysts think Argentina is heading for Euro-style economic crisis), but read something.
Most viral sites are simply re-packaging content that has already been created. And the more viral content we consume, the less space there is for original writing.
By using images, GIFs and videos to replace text wherever possible, Buzzfeed is also cultivating a readership of distracted, meme-sharing skimmers.
Unfortunately, many issues remain too complicated for a two-second looped GIF.
5. You’re short on time, but the world is long on cat videos
Information is like food. It once was scarce, but now we have enough McDonalds, Cadburys and Chiko Rolls to eat ourselves to death.
More information exists on the internet than we could consume in 3000 lifetimes and it’s growing each day.
Buzfeed makes it all-too-easy to pig-out on cat videos, celebrity videos and celebrity cat videos.
But our time is precious and Buzzfeed should be delivering something more nutritious to earn it.
Lead Image via Hilary Mason / Flickr