The Filter Bubble And Garbage Headlines Are Turning You Into An Idiot


“She Stretches And Glides Her Body Over A Blank Canvas. When I Realized What She Was Creating, I Was Blown Away.” Sounds reasonably interesting, right? Well, I give you permission to temporarily serve Moloch, the hell-spawned god of clickbait, by clicking the source link. But I’ll tell you what “she” was creating: some charcoal art made by rubbing “her” body on canvas. Does she “create” a historically accurate portrait? A landscape? A tribute, winking or otherwise, to existing art? No, it’s just some circles on the canvas, about what you think you’d get if you made snow angels with charcoal.

As The Last Psychiatrist always writes, “If you see it, it’s for you.” And if you see this article, you can assume that the people behind it think that you are an idiot of saurian proportions.


Are you “blown away” by that? If you are, then I suggest you avoid any chance to see a Boeing 747, any piece of modern furniture, or one of those crazy pencils where they somehow get the lead inside the wood and then have an eraser included as well, because that shit will level you. If you’re blown away by someone making snow angels with charcoal, trust me: the process by which aluminum is extracted from bauxite will make you involuntarily empty your colon into your undies.

Nominally speaking, I stole the above image, but it’s okay; it’s been stolen and incorporated into any number of Buzzfeed/Upworthy-style “articles”. I picked this one because the article title was changed after it was initially edited. The article was first called

She Sits On The Ground And Begins To Move; When She’s Done She Finds Herself Seated Upon A Hypnotizing Masterpiece

That headline had to be changed. It wasn’t Buzz-y enough. It didn’t grab the clicks. It also contains a falsehood — the woman isn’t seated on the ground — but that wasn’t the reason they changed it, trust me. It had to be amped up. Because any of the actual headlines which would truthfully apply to the photos, some of which I’ve suggested below:

Local Woman Makes Charcoal Art By Lying On Canvas

Snow Angels With Charcoal Entertain Local Artist’s Friends, Family

Area Middle-Aged Man Disappointed To Find Out That Gritty-Looking 6/10 “Artist” Isn’t Getting Naked As Part Of “Performance Art”

Local Museum Will Let Anybody Do Anything

aren’t “strong” enough to draw clicks. More specifically, they aren’t strong enough to draw clicks out of Facebook. Ryan Holiday hints around this idea in his recent piece on Upworthy et al, but we are rapidly becoming the proverbial “two Americas” once again, and this time it’s fairly important.

The first America pays for news, opinion, and information, which it consumes in airports, during quiet breakfasts in upscale homes, and on the subway on the way back out to the bedroom communities. The average upper-middle-class life is deliberately structured with some dead time during which traditional news can be consumed; think of all those airmiles over flyover country or all the field hockey games in which one is only expected to occasionally raise a generic cheer for the team on which one’s child is playing. The prototype for this individual is the tanned, patrician-looking fifty-year-old idly thumbing through The Economist as he waits for his connection at O’Hare, but it could also be the burly sales manager grinding through the Wall Street Journal in the crappy biz-class section of a RegionalJet.

Members of the first America think nothing of spending five or ten dollars for access to current news, interpreted by reliable and educated sources. They don’t absorb the whole thing with the diamond-cut intellectual clarity of an Atticus Finch; this is 2014, after all. But they are receiving information and analysis that, though it may be far from perfect, is of a minimum known quality. The Economist may occasionally miss its guess on a matter of foreign policy or asset value, but if all you did was read the magazine cover to cover every week, you’d know more than 95% of humanity does about what’s going on in the world. Read the Journal or the NYT cover to cover and you’d know more than about 90% of humanity does about what’s going on in the world, plus you’d see some great ads for luxury products.

Whether they know it or not, the people who make up the first America are fulfilling one of the minimum requirements for participation in a democracy. They are informed, even if they are not completely informed, even if they don’t comprehend everything they read. They have a vague awareness of American foreign policy, the wars this country is involved in or not involved in, the approximate state of the financial markets, major foreign news like a regime change or potential areas of strife (such as the islands which are currently claimed by both Japan and China). They are willing to pay money to reach this base level of awareness.

The rest of America — the second America — has long since abandoned any sort of traditional paid-distribution news source. Instead, it gets “news” through social media, which is to say through Twitter and Facebook. It seems bizarre, pathetic, unbelievable even that most people get their news by clicking on shared Facebook links, but if you read the statistics, that’s how it’s happening.

Insofar as most people prefer to be Facebook friends with people of similar political orientation, there’s a nasty bit of filtering that takes place before most people even see their clickbait “news”. In order to make it onto someone’s FB page, it has to punch so many of the “right” buttons and make the original reader feel so good, so validated, that they decide to “share” it. Insofar as genuine, authentic, properly constructed news never meets that criteria, it’s safe to say that appearing on a Facebook page is a statistical guarantee that whatever you’re about to read is complete and utter junk. (Says the guy who just racked up 1,500+ FB shares for no apparent reason, over the course of a single weekend, on an old article about Porsche tuners.) If it’s in your “News Feed”, it’s not news. Period.

“Oh,” but you hasten to state, “I don’t just get news off Facebook. I go to DailyKos or HuffingtonPost or Upworthy or Gawker or Freep or Blaze.” Well, that isn’t really news, is it? It’s what Ryan Holiday calls “hormone-injected garbage”. If you’re reading it, it’s for you — and if you read any of it with a critical mind, you’ll find that it’s designed for idiots.

Which means that you’re an idiot. If you clicked on a link like any of the four in the image that opens this article, you’re an idiot, responding to idiot-bait, like the guy Kurt Russell “fishes” onto his lot at the beginning of “Used Cars”. You may not be an idiot at home, you may not be an idiot in your professional life or your parenting life or your WoW guild, but when you click on idiot-bait, you become, at least temporarily, an idiot. Think of it this way. If you’re a man and you click on a picture link of one guy jamming his salami up another guy’s pie-hole, you’re gay, at least for the duration of your decision to click that link. So if you actually click on “In Ninety Seconds, I Learned Something About Sea Coral That Could Change The World,” you, my friend, are an idiot, however temporarily.

Sorry about that.

Luckily, it’s fixable. Just find a reliable, vaguely impartial source of news. Unfortunately, even the best news nowadays comes with a sort of in-built bias direction that can be vaguely described as “pro-corporate-interest social liberalism”. Can’t be helped. You have to learn to read through it. You’ll also probably have to pay for it. Get over that, as well. It’s worth five or ten dollars a week to not be a complete idiot when it comes to the rest of the world. Wean yourself from the online garbage. At the very least, take the Journal, but if you’re feeling ambitious, get an overseas paper or The Economist or something like that.

Get out of the bubble, out of the idiot boxes. Leave the second America. Nothing’s happening there. Become informed, derive your own opinions, find your own truth. You won’t be worse off for it. At the very least, you’ll represent one fewer source of income for the Upworthys of the world. That’s worth doing all by itself — and to quote that less-than-august site, it’s something that should happen more often.

14 Replies to “The Filter Bubble And Garbage Headlines Are Turning You Into An Idiot”

  1. jz78817

    This is a side benefit to never having bothered getting into Facebook, Twitter, or any insanely-hyped-fad-crapped-out-by-ridiculously-overvalued-Silicon-Valley-Startup app/social thing (cue reference to The Onion’s “Guy Who Constantly Mentions He Doesn’t Own a TV.) the internet has pretty much become the same cesspool of attention whoring, narcissistic warring cliques that I hoped to leave behind in high school, and I hate it. I’ve been gradually disconnecting myself from most online interaction with few exceptions, Facebook, Twitter, etc.? Never did it. LinkedIn? Deleted. Google account? Deleted. Message boards/blogs? Off most of ’em.

  2. Luke

    Classic third paragraph…I laugh-snorted coffee all over my desk. Love it.

    I feel like an old curmudgeon saying it, but the Upworthys and HuffPos of the world just come across as sheer noise to me. The internet is a constant presence in my life, of course, but those click bait links and images are just incredibly distracting. They are the neighbor with 18″ subwoofers and 2000 watts of amplification in his beige Corolla that’s always coming home exactly when I want to sit on my deck and have a quiet beer. An annoyance that is both temporary and constant. I’ve hit a point in the last few years where I really want the noise in my life turned down. I don’t like as many distraction as I once did.

    This has led me to opt out of most social network experiences. For me to use them now, they need to provide a real value to me, to WORK for me. Not surprisingly, few of them do.

  3. mnm4ever

    What I find amazing… scary really… is how many people I considered to be intelligent and educated seem to fall for click bait over and over. I see these friends and family of mine forwarding links, liking comments and pages, endlessly repeating “news” that should be so clearly false, obviously made up, yet they believe it.

    I think politicians love this, its such an easy way to spread falsehoods and rumors like wildfire and it seems that the great majority of people fall for it hook, line and sinker. The GOP is clearly better at using it too. 🙂

    Makes me feel smarter, especially after reading your post, but it also really makes me concerned about our future. Idiocracy keeps looking more and more like our destiny.

  4. Ryan Murphy

    It’s even worse: as this Ted Talk demonstrates, the results you get, and the news you see when searching a subject are filtered for you. Google shows you things it thinks will interest you. During the talk, two individuals’ are asked to enter the same term in Google, and they get surprisingly different results, based on an algorithm determining their ‘interests’.

    • Gert Frobe Body Double

      I’m sure you’ve noticed, but TED has gawkerized to an extreme degree in the last 5 years (let’s not even mention TEDx) to the point where about 30% of new TED talks are explicitly click bait of the type Jack is talking about and another half are nearly so with the remaining 20% being real, interesting hard science results

  5. mattm

    I do not harbor any ill feelings toward the piece but I do want to inject another potential issue. I live near Columbus, OH just like Jack and the issue is as follows. The newspaper that my wife makes me pay for is called the Columbus Dispatch. This paper is not even suitable for a position at the bottom of your bird cage. When attempting to use it for removing feces from your rectum it is also proven to be a subpar satisfaction but may provide temporary psychological satisfaction. At the moment I moved from NYC to Columbus following the directive of my spouse I have been trying to get same day delivery of the NY Times. I have not succeded. While reading the Economist would perhaps be helpful, in this area of the country, a newspaper that was suitable to even attempt to read would be a welcome addition.

    In the interim, both publications are available digitally. This access to information could be the single event that changes the course of mankind. After again trying to read the Columbus Dispatch, I sincerely hope it to be true.

    • JackJack Post author


      F the Dispatch. Worst newspaper in the Midwest. It speaks volumes that you’ll never see anybody reading it on a flight outbound from CMH.

      I used to deliver that rag when I was a kid and it felt like getting paid to vandalize doorsteps.

  6. steve

    I have but one beef with the thesis here; lumping Twitter in with Facebook. Like most of the internet, 99.9% of Twitter is garbage, but if you take the time to follow the right people, it’s possible to set up a good news feed, curated by smart journalists who post regularly on diverse topics and link to news sites that aren’t clickbait shite.

    • JackJack Post author

      I totally agree. The problem is that most of the people who have the skills to do something like that are not of the “Twitter generation”.

  7. Trackratmk1

    The other day I saw a circulating image comparing CNN’s online headlines side by side with Reuter’s. CNN featured Justin Bieber’s smug-shot and no less than five related articles while Reuter’s had an on-the-ground image of the Ukraine protests. There must be a tug of war going on at every “news” desk between the advocates of the sensationalist garbage that floods the Internet and real journalism as you mention.

    Maybe the power struggle is less significant at subscription news outlets (it should be for paid content), but the MSM, including their online outlets know that the cheap trash pays the bills by drawing clicks and views. Editors and producers can easily justify a story about the Kardashian’s instead of Foreign Policy because they’ve effectively had a free focus group conducted by gauging social media pulses on each issue. They already know which story pulls the views.

    • jz78817

      “News for Profit” has turned CNN into entertainment. When they moved to that “virtual reality” stage setup and hired that shitsack Piers Morgan, they completed their decline into worthlessness.

      If I want to know what’s actually going on in the world, I start with BBC News.

  8. Tom KlockauTom Klockau

    Things like this make me glad I have never gotten onto Facebook, Twitter or any of the other “dude I’m at the grocery buying cereal” me-me-ME! social websites.

    When I recently read of the oh-so-’60s cool Miami Herald building being razed, it seemed like it was kind of the last stand of the “old” news outlets. Are any of the classic old “newsrooms” still around? Where would Mary Richards work today? Subway?

    On the other hand, Ted Baxter would probably have his own reality show…


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