How Media Makes Money From Our Fear

Updated: May 14

We are now three months into this pandemic and I personally could not be more over it. I just want for one day to swim in the sea and feel sunshine on my pasty Irish skin (first world problems, I know). I am missing my family like crazy and I am so over seeing people’s TikTok videos, banana bread and motherflipping home workouts. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a get-up and move sorta gal but can we all just calm down and can someone please pass me the gin. I keep wondering, when am I going to see my family, hug my nieces or step off that Ryanair flight to take my first deep breath smelling that beautiful cow shit in the Irish air.

Hairdressers and small restaurants here in Berlin are opening up and I'll admit, it’s hard not to get overexcited and run out to get sushi and a perm. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions. This week I massively struggled with motivation. I think we can all agree that just having something to look forward to or some form of normality would be great. Human contact would be even better. I understand this pandemic has been truly awful for some people, those who have been sick or lost loved ones. I embrace our front line staff - you are amazing. The ones who go to work each day fearing their own lives and safety. They are literal Heroes of today.

One thing I did find incredibly helpful was to stop reading in any inflated articles related to the Rona. As a result my mental health has improved tenfold. I simply refuse to read anything now unless it's completely factual. I just don't need to see it. On my social media, I have muted or unfollowed all Instagram accounts of individuals with narcissistic behaviours. You know, the ones who think we care about their abs or matching bikini (unless it's Lizzo), or the rich celebrities quarantined in their million-dollar home sprawled across the ledge of their swimming pool. I for one, don't.

Look, we don’t know much about the Rona and that can seem scary. Because of this, at the beginning, I was obsessed with reading any articles about it, sharing them across my Whatsapp groups. I was going wild for these Rona articles (sorry to all my friends). I was living off every single bit of information I could get. I am always conscious of the source of what I read but we all get carried away when we see shocking headlines.

Maybe you didn’t know this, but when an article is published, the media company needs people to read it. They typically attract people with a wildly shocking title. You click in because of course you want to see what the flip is going down here and Chrissy from your morning yoga class shared it on Facebook saying ‘wow, shocking’ and boom another click for them and thus it put money in the pocket of the media company who published it. The more clicks (higher click-through rate), the more money made. The more shocking the title the more clicks they will get. Is it making sense?

Sensationalism: a type of editorial tactic in mass media. Events and topics in news stories are selected and worded to excite the greatest number of readers and viewers. This style of news report encourages biased impressions of events rather than neutrality, and may cause a manipulation to the truth of a story (Source: Wikipedia).

Because of the rapid increase of news companies out there (all, of course, wanting to be the ‘go-to’ news platform), it means an increase of competition, more need for speed to publish and less time for fact-checking. We have so many options to get news updates and they are almost all free sources. They are all fighting for our very limited attention. Our clicks, shares and likes are the product that they make money off. Often when we are on social media our guard is down and we are more open to receiving. We can see something even unconsciously and it can plant a seed in our head without us even noticing.

The media should be ashamed of the way that it has handled this crisis since the beginning. Scaring people is just so unethical, it’s like they are sitting smug-faced in their offices, creepy laughing at all the suckers reading and believing what they're churning out. What about the older generation who don’t know this is how it all works? What if they don’t know that lies are allowed to be sold? In the age of social media, any asshole out there can create content and spit it out to the world. You only need to look at how many fitness ‘influencers’ are giving literally the WORST advice on training, form and diet. It’s too easy. Didn’t someone say Adele drank green juice every day to lose all that weight? Come on.

I beg you to avoid the tabloids. In my opinion, The Sun, The Mirror, The Daily Mail etc. are the absolute cretinism of the media world. Not only do they spin out lies, they create fear on purpose as it puts more money in their pockets. They are almost always in favour of one political party so the lens is skewed - remember that. If you ever see a family member, auntie or neighbour who reads these, you go ahead and rip that paper straight out of their hand and run for the hills. Here is a list of media outlets from Forbes that are unbiased, or my Dad's personal favourite, Private Eye. If you're desperate for entertainment, watch Friends.

Another thing that perhaps you are not aware of, is how your data is used and manipulated on platforms like Facebook so that you get perfectly targeted ads or article on your newsfeed. Or perhaps you didn't know either how YouTube's 'recommended videos' feature works. You think it's a coincidence that when you do a youtube search on ‘banana bread tutorial’ a list of videos come up on the right-hand side related to this search too? Great if you're a good person using it to educate yourself and learn about the world and you get heaps of interesting videos aligned to your topic, but what if you’re an asshole? Or worse, a Trump supporter? We all remember the Cambridge Analytica scandal, right? Let me remind you of how that happened and highlight a few details you might have missed..

There was once a man named Aleksandr Kogan, born in Moldova. His parents were so proud of him when he graduated from the University of California, Berkeley and went on to become a Psychology Lecturer at the University of Cambridge. He then became a Data Scientist for the University, research was his passion. One day, he had a bright idea to develop a personality quiz for Facebook. Over 250k people installed this app. Of course, Kogan did not only have access to these individuals but to their Facebook friends. When the app asked for that data (you know the T&C part we quickly skim through because it’s too wordy and the complicated and for flip sake we just want to play the goddamn quiz), it saved that information into a separate private database (instead of deleting it). One day, Kogan had the bright idea to hand all of this data over to the voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica. (Cambridge Analytica is a political consultancy hired by campaigns to analyse voters and target them with ads.) lol, yes this was a real company.

Cambridge Analytica made 30 million “psychographic” profiles about voters. The data was manipulated and targeted ads for the Trump campaign were created. They appeared on the more ‘right-wing’ or ‘conservative’ users Facebook feeds as sponsored or suggested ads (it's called brainwashing in some countries). This, of course, turned them straight into Trump voters. Thus we have somehow ended up with him running the joint. Yes, it’s a mess. And Yes, Zuckerberg is still a free man and no one was held accountable for this absolute shit show. Hitler could have actually advertised his campaigns on Facebook under the same rules. Political ads are barely regulated. Cambridge Analytica had ‘significant’ ties to Trump’s main crew. His supporters and advisers. You know, the wonderful and diverse team of rich white men and the one female, his daughter (the handbag designer).

The average person (especially the older generation) does not understand the basics of how the media works or how information on your newsfeed is generated and they don't question it. Let's say you are in fact an asshole. You are a racist bigot and you 'like' and follow such pages and people all over the internet. Whatever you google as an asshole, whatever you watch on youtube as an asshole and whatever you like on facebook as an asshole is collected in an algorithm for you leading to even more assholes and asshole pages being suggested to you on 'sponsored ads'. It's like an echo chamber reenforcing your already xenophobic lens on the world. We were so shocked in the first place that someone like Trump could actually get in but the proof is in the pudding I'm afraid. Just because the circles you or I mix within don't follow that part of the internet doesn't mean it's not on there.

Facebook has a responsibility here and should not be scaring people into reading these articles, but hey it’s the media thus soulless. Take one look at how they harass celebrities. Remember how they treated Caroline Flack when she threw a lamp at her boyfriend (less than ideal but we don't judge). Caroline did not deserve the treatment she received from the media and trolls and it should never have been allowed. They then came crawling out of their cesspits with all of their love and prayers for her family after she took her life and deleted all the evidence online from their bashing and trolling…

Our lives are becoming more and more transparent through Social media and we, unfortunately, compare our everyday 'still in my too big for me PJ's haven't showered yet and have cereal stuck to my face' scenes to someones else's highlight reel. Please unfollow anyone who doesn't make you feel good. I can assure you their fancy lives are not real and they are certainly not happy if they're trying this hard to show off to the world. It's the validation they are constantly seeking. This is really sad, right? These people are not inspiring you. They are unachievable and unattainable bodies for most people. Anyone who demonstrates narcissistic behaviours or who promotes teeth whitening kits/fake tan/pretty little thing and so on, unfollow unfollow unfollow. Buying more things will not make you happy and it's bad for the environment. Get these sad and lonely people off your feed now, they have no purpose there or anywhere near your life. Follow the true change makers, like Malala or someone funny like '@barrysbanterbus' (gets me every time).

If you are bored, watch educational youtube videos, interviews with inspiring people like Jay Shetty, Oprah or Simon Sinek and read books that will deepen your mind and give you a sense of understanding in life. If you are sad, watch something funny or talk to a friend or family member. Paint, draw, dance, sing. Feel all of your emotions. Have a cry in the shower. Lie down and take a nap. Do whatever it takes to get you through this crisis. We will get through together and life will start again. Maybe not exactly the way we remember, but we will come back together, we will hug, kiss and enjoy good times again together. To get to the light at the end of the tunnel we have to first go through it.

As I said before we have been watching people all over the internet baking banana bread (what the flip I've even baked it myself), making tick tick videos and every Ex-boyfriend you've ever had is sliding into your DMs (bye Felicia). Fitness professionals are finding new ways to motivate and train people online. Many are trying something new, putting themselves out there and being brave. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see people doing this and shaking it up a little. Be it through music, Instagram lives, blogging or just being creative and sharing it with the world. The world needs more of this. People coming out of this will have discovered some incredible hidden talents. Didn’t Shakespeare write King Lear in quarantine?

When your Aunt Mary says 'oh Chrisht things will never be the same again for us, it's all changing' tell her "YES sis, change is good!''. Maybe you'll realise you weren't happy in your life, career, relationship etc and you've finally had a chance to step off the hamster wheel and take 5. Leave your partner if you're not happy with them, trust me as a single woman in her thirties, I've never been happier in my life (outside corona, of course). Some of the hardest and loneliest times for me have been in a relationship simply because I was with the wrong person and breaking up seemed like such a hard thing to go through. You do not need to be in a relationship to be fulfilled or 'whole'. That is total BS and what society 'expects from us' especially as women. I say F the system and what anyone else expects from us. I am only answerable to myself. Do you. If you don't like your company or job, dust off your CV, think of all the incredible things you have achieved in your previous roles and get it all on there. Apply for a new job. You have one life and this is not a trial run. Time is the most precious asset we will ever have, don't waste your precious energy supporting an organisation or working a job that doesn't set your soul on fire.

People are doing things differently now and many have changed their perspective on life and time. We are spending far more time with our families, learning to just be. Don't beat yourself up if you are not motivated to do a home workout or to be productive. You are doing great by getting out of bed in the morning and taking a shower. Celebrate the small wins each day. Yes it's awesome to have more 'free' time, and I am a big believer in spending time wisely but right now we need to focus on getting through. This is a pandemic, our brain is working overtime to make hundreds of tiny decisions each day that in normal life are made for us and it is frigging exhausting. Trying to keep our little heads above water, feed ourselves (and whoever else) and staying sane in itself is all consuming. I take naps all the time these days. And finally, be careful what you look at because I promise it's affecting you and your self worth. Check the source of the information you consume and try and view things from different perspectives. Don't read tabloids. Unfollow the irrelevants on your social media accounts. Be mindful of what sort of company you are (we all have blindspots) and please don't be an asshole to the ones that have to live with you. Be kind to yourself most importantly and give yourself a break. This is a global pandemic, let's just focus on getting through.





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