Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator


You’ve seen it all before. A malicious online rumor costs a company millions. A political sideshow derails the national news cycle and destroys a candidate. Some product or celebrity zooms from total obscurity to viral sensation. What you don’t know is that someone is responsible for all this. Usually, someone like me. I’m a media manipulator. In a world where blogs control and distort the news, my job is to control blogs-as much as any one person can. In today’s culture… 1) Blogs like Gawk…

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Gaming journalists Patricia Hernandez of Kotaku and Ben Kuchera of Polygon have published articles in which they have a conflict of interest(r/Games)

The problem is that click-bait is the only way to keep the lights on for most of these sites. They just don’t make that much money.

Consider how this translates to employee pay and, in turn, the incentive for these employees to pursue virtuous journalistic careers and invest the time required to keep things on the straight and narrow.

As a result, we don’t get journalism – we get op-ed and clickbait. We get toxicity.

This is part of a vicious cycle. Toxicity and clickbait are more profitable.

It is in human nature for us to have our interest piqued by negative headlines and bad news. Our brains work by recognizing patterns and relationships between facts and situations. We’ve evolved to be more interested in the facts that jut out and are potentially more threatening to our survival.

So, bad news and negativity gets clicks. Weird-ass headlines gets clicks. Misinformation drives clicks. Toxicity drives traffic. Clickbait drives traffic.

Go look at the headlines and “hot” articles on top gaming blogs. You’ll see tons of negative articles or headlines that stir toxicity.

  • The more people get upset, feel that they’re getting taken advantage of, or feel threatened, the more likely they are to click.

  • The more inflammatory the article, the more likely people are to comment.

  • The more likely they are to comment, the more likely they are to return to the article.

  • The more likely people are to return to an article, the more page views the blog gets.

  • The more page views the blog gets, the more they make.

So, if you’re the editor for a gaming blog site, what do you do? Even if you’re not intending to run toxic content, you might unconsciously start becoming conditioned to run toxic content through the positive feedback you get through page stats.

In systems like Forbes where anyone can submit and the most popular articles get featured, it’s easy to see how the most divisive and potentially toxic content gets featured.

Consider this. Here’s a fictional made-up quote we can use for the sake of argument.

> “In the new game, the brothers go to Africa. It’s a fascinating place,” said Jim Drawerson, artist on Super Plumber Brothers 2. “It was hard to capture all of the culture and ethnic diversity, but I think we did a good job.”

Which of these three headlines do you think will get the most clicks and comments?

> 1. Super Plumber Brothers 2 artist interview

> 2. Super Plumber Brothers 2 artist talk about setting game in Africa

> 3. Super Plumber Brothers 2 artist slammed for racist comments

For the third headline, all you have to do is find a few people on Twitter who were offended (someone is always offended about something), screenshot their comments, and paste them into your article.

The third headline will drive clicks, even if it’s not accurate. But who’s going to hold the gaming bloggers accountable?

Gaming blogs are largely not accountable to anyone except the stats that keep the doors open. I’m not going to name names or sites, but I can tell you that, having worked in the industry, there are a handful of very popular sites that do not fact check and do not run corrections. It should come as no surprise that these sites also make most of their revenue on click bait.

So what can we do?

  • Do not click on clickbait. Look at the headline of an article and ask yourself – Is this going to help me understand or know more about gaming?

  • Do not comment on inflammatory articles. This only gives toxic clickbait more views.

  • Question sources. What are the facts that the author is asserting? Where did they get these facts? Did they talk to the developer/publisher?

  • Question credentials. Who wrote this article? What is their qualification? What kind of articles do they typically write? Have they contacted the publisher/developer to get the facts?

  • Question authority. Who is writing this? Do they have special knowledge? Do they have special access?

  • Tell authors and editors when you see clickbait and you don’t like it. Do this through Twitter – not through the site. Do not contribute to toxic comments sections.

  • If you find a factual error in an article, tell the author. Do this for Twitter. They will probably censor you in the comments section.

  • Comment on articles that are well-written and contain facts and thank the author.

It’s a huge effort, but a lot of the toxicity in the gaming community comes from ignorance. And that ignorance is driven, willfully or not, by clickbait.

At the end of the day, there’s just not that much gaming news. So someone has to stir up drama to fill columns and drive clicks.

EDIT — This is a great book that covers some of this subject matter. Very quick read.…

To be clear, I am not affiliated with this book and am not using Amazon affiliate to make money on clicks/purchases of this book. I think it’s a great resource for people who would like to know more about this topic.

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Games, Seattle

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Ryan Holiday

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Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator

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Gaming journalists Patricia Hernandez of Kotaku and Ben Kuchera of Polygon have published articles in which they have a conflict of interest

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