The Internet Is Monetizing Lies and I Am Mostly Out of Outrage

Email a Friend

So that Diane story, about a guy proudly live tweeting his bullying of an upset airline passenger, has turned out to be a fraud. 

Likewise, this week's story of a showdown between an out-of-control Twitter account for salsa company Pace Picante and comedian Kyle Kinane is also fake. 

I have to say, as a person happily condemned to read the internet all day and follow most of these stories, my feelings are ambivalent.

Two of the sites I read most, Buzzfeed and Gawker, are a strange hybrid of incredibly smart, skeptical reporting paired with very credulous broadcasts of viral stories. Gawker, for instance, pairs John Cook's smart, angry political exposes alongside too-good-to-fact-check heartstring-tuggers by Neetzan Zimmerman. The Zimmerman posts bring in the traffic, and if they periodically turn out to be untrue, well, correct them with an "Update" and trust people to forgive you. After all, we're all adults and we all know viral stories should be taken with a shaker of salt. 

And Buzzfeed's similar.  They reap monstrous traffic from stories like the Diane Twitter hoax (and, ironically, from their story exposing it as a hoax), but their Bureau of Credulous Viral Reporting underwrites a ton of stellar tech and politics and internet culture reporting

If you don't mind all this too much, you can make the historical argument: light fare has always supported serious stuff in journalism. You can't have front page investigative reporting without the funny pages. But there's difference between running some Dilbert cartoons and intermixing real, reported stories with fake soap operas cooked up by people who are bored on Twitter.

Or maybe there isn't! Maybe we just need to become comfortable allocating trust in individual writers rather than across entire outlets, which I suspect is what a lot of readers are already doing. 

The other facet of this is that, frankly, I have outrage fatigue. I could spend every week being mad about a new viral fiction I've been told and half-believed, or I can just accept that these stories are the modern equivalent of folklore. I can choose to treat these hoaxes as pieces of culture rather than pieces of reporting, as vessels by which we transmit values and fend off boredom. 

If that's true, then they're still worth paying attention to, and it's still ok to selectively get mad at them. As with any piece of culture, we're allowed to like some manipulations and dislike others. I can loathe that Diane story, not so much because it's fake, but because it asks us to celebrate a guy who tells a woman to "eat his dick" on an airplane. 

All this to say, we're working on a new podcast episode that we hope to have for you tonight or tomorrow. We spoke to one of these perpetrators of a viral hoax that we actually enjoyed being fooled by, that aforementioned Pace Picante story. We talked to him both to get the particulars of what happened, but also to keep picking away at this bigger question: why we like some lies and loathe others.