Carter Wrenn: Don’t believe everything you click

Published 12:36 am Tuesday, September 6, 2016

By Carter Wrenn

Talking About Politics

The other morning I went on the internet searching for eyeglasses and after an hour I gave up and clicked on the New York Times website — and up popped an ad for eyeglasses. I ignored the ad and clicked on an article about Hillary Clinton — and up popped another ad for eyeglasses.

Whether it’s selling eyeglasses or the “Greatest 10 Moments in Sports History,” every time you click on a website an ad is sure to pop up and it’s a safe bet those websites are getting paid to show you the ads and it’s an equally safe bet those websites would like to increase how often you click so they can sell more ads.

Not long ago a pundit in the newspaper said getting 4 percent of the vote in a presidential election won’t get you far but getting 4 percent of the voters to watch your TV channel (like Fox News) will make you a billionaire.

What gets people to click on political websites are stories ripping Hillary Clinton or stories ripping Donald Trump – with headlines like this:

• New York Times: Pariahs for Trump: ISIS Jihadists, North Korea and the KKK Agree on a Candidate.

• Fox News: KKK Grand Dragon Endorses Hillary.

• Red State: Trump is Frankenstein.

• Breitbart: Hillary May Go to Prison.

The goal here isn’t reporting news: It’s turning websites into what social media moguls call “click factories” – clicks spell M-O-N-E-Y and the folks most likely to click (on a political media website) are the most hyper-ventilating Clinton or Trump supporters, and the most hyperventilating headlines get the most clicks.

The other day one website ran an article headlined “Former Klan Dragon Was Hillary’s Mentor.” You’d have reckoned back in her Arkansas days Hillary slipped and fell in with bad company but of course that wasn’t exactly so — Hillary’s “mentor” turned out to be former U.S. Senator Robert Byrd whose days in the Klan ended about the time Hillary was born.

So where does that leave us?

Not savoring sweet reason or enjoying the delights of revelation.

We live in the Information Age and the world’s at our fingertips with the click of a mouse — but look what it’s led to.

It’s tempting to blame greedy websites for this quagmire, but it’s a harder fact that folks enjoy clicking on headlines like “Trump is Frankenstein.” When the clicking stops, the howling stops.

Carter Wrenn is publisher of Talking About Politics, a blog focusing on national and North Carolina politics. Before that, he was a campaign aide to Republican U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms and executive director of the National Congressional Club.