What is Outrage Bait?

Have you ever felt angry after scrolling through your Facebook timeline? Has social media convinced you that modern society is full of precious snowflakes who take offence to everything? Are recent news stories making you feel more and more irate?

If so, then allow me to explain how digital media companies and social media gurus are drumming up outrage for the sake of generating more advertising revenue.

Simply put: They are making you angry on purpose.

Outrage Bait

It’s all about those clicks.

Social media is all about clicks, comments, likes and shares. To gain a prominent position in the Facebook timeline, companies must publish content that encourages engagement. If they fail to do so, the timeline algorithm will limit the amount of users that they can reach. Essentially, the algorithm will mark the content as uninteresting and show it to less people.

For years, Facebook was plagued by clickbait titles such as “You’ll never guess what happened next!”, as pages discovered that they were able to exploit people’s natural sense of curiosity for clicks. By purposely withholding important information from the main post, they were able to increase their engagement by baiting people into clicking on their content.

In 2016, word began to spread that Facebook was gearing up to “wage war” on clickbait. Shortly afterwards, typical clickbait posts began to disappear as algorithm changes kicked in and severely limited their reach.

As a result, the quintessential clickbait post no longer worked and companies were forced to find new tricks.

Rage Bait.

Rage bait or Outrage bait has become the new engagement strategy. By posting “news stories” about topics that cause outrage, companies can bait their followers into engaging with their content.

If you have ever seen a controversial news story on Facebook, then you have probably also noticed how many comments and angry face emojis these kind of posts tend to attract.

This is by design.

Simply put: More reactions = more engagement = more clicks = more advertising revenue.

Essentially, companies are exploiting their user’s anger so that they can drive more traffic and make more money.

Controversial news stories have always existed. That is true. However, the latest social media “trick” seems to involve creating controversial news stories out of thin air.

To do this, content writers will actively seek out an obscure and controversial opinion that is held by a small minority of people and then make a big news story about it.

It’s genius, right? I mean, if you think about it, rage-inducing opinions have been around since the dawn of humanity. There have always been a fringe minority of people who have said things that caused outrage in other people.

However, we are now in a situation where editors are scouring the web for these minority opinions so that they can put a microphone in front of them and amplify them for the sake of clicks.

OMG, they’re trying to change Santa’s gender!

Take the following example by an Irish digital media company called JOE.ie:

Gender Neutral Santa

Title: “Survey finds that nearly a third of people think Santa should be female or gender neutral.”

The “outrage bait” above worked by suggesting that the image of everyone’s beloved childhood character was somehow under threat of being completely overhauled by modern feminists.

In reality, however, JOE.ie took an online poll that was started by a logo design company and blew it up into something that it wasn’t.

Dissecting rage bait.

Let’s dissect this particular example of outrage bait:

  1. This was an Internet poll. The problem with Internet polls is that they can be wildly inaccurate and open to manipulation. Where was this poll shared? Which communities took part in it? Was a link to the poll shared on a particular forum? There are so many factors that can change the outcome of an Internet poll that the results of these polls can never be taken seriously.
  2. This poll was being run by a logo design company, which is hardly an authoritative body when it comes to opinion research.
  3. The poll in question asked people how they would modernize Santa. It did not ask them if they wanted to modernize Santa or not. Those are two very different questions. How many respondents took part in this poll on the basis of “well, this is how I would modernize Santa if I had to? We don’t know because this question was never specifically asked.
  4. Internet polls and surveys have sampling issues as they rely on people to volunteer their input. How many people declined to take part because they didn’t like the thought of modernizing Santa? How many people specifically went out of their way to take part in the poll because they have a strong opinion on the subject? Again, we don’t know.

All in all: A third of people did not say that Santa’s gender should be changed. A third of people who took part in an obscure Internet poll being run by a logo company said so. But that didn’t stop JOE.ie from running with it as a story.

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