Everyone Is Trolling Now, And That Means You’re Worse Than Hitler*
*Did you see what I did there?
We live in an attention economy now, and in the news, entertainment, and information industry that means that you are in a constant fight for eyeballs. We have screens everywhere: TV, computer, tablet, phone, and beyond and that means everyone who generates content for those screens desperately wants you to look in on them for a second in order to sell your demographics to their advertisers.
I’m okay with all of that. But what has developed as a result is a professionalized style of trolling. Media has always attempted to get people’s attention – check out the history of tabloid media which was born at about the same time the printing press was – but it feels as if this style of media is more pervasive than ever.
In addition you’ve got the rise of the personal brand, which prompts people to be provocative to their own audiences in service of the larger platforms they work in (or for.)
When ESPN’s Rob Parker made his racial comments about Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, the most offensive thing wasn’t what he said, but rather ESPN’s faux outrage over them. Everyone knows that Parker said what he said so people would say “oh no he didn’t,” clip it, then post it to YouTube, helping to increase his ESPN show’s notoriety.
Similarly, there isn’t any way that CNN didn’t know conspiracy theorist Alex Jones would make an absolute clown of himself – it’s what he does. And now, instead of people talking about how Piers Morgan’s ratings have plummeted since he took over for Larry King, they’re talking about that viral video with him and the gun nut.
Everybody’s trolling, driven to say more and more provocative things in order to rise above the media din in hopes that somebody pays attention, hits a social media “share” button and gets your brand – personal or professional – in front of more people.
It’s the same formula that Fox News, MSNBC, Huffington Post, The Drudge Report, and Business Insider have all ridden to success.
And I’m actually okay with a lot of it. I like the news to be exciting and dynamic. The problem, I think, is we’re going to soon enter a place where just being provocative isn’t enough. We may soon enter a world where unequivocal public declarations come across even dumber than today’s sort of comments.
If that were to happen, it would almost be worse than slavery! (I DON’T ACTUALLY BELIEVE THIS, I’M MAKING A POINT)
But you see what I mean. I’m not really sure how you put this particular genie back in the bottle and it’s only a matter of time before the stodgiest of media organizations realize its potential and everyone (and I certainly include myself here) feels a need to keep upping the ante.
It may be interesting – or at least look that way – but it might not be fun.