Have you ever wanted to get millions of hits on your blog without having to use one bit of your brain? Would you like to create a hoax disguised as satire in order to bring home a traffic bonanza? Do you aspire to be a slimebag? Boy have I got the tutorial for you!
Following on the heels of junk-masquerading-as-satire website Empire News' wildly successful winter storm hoax last week (it garnered more than one-and-a-half million shares on Facebook!), several other blogs decided to attempt to ride the traffic wave and duplicate Empire News' masterful duping. Several have succeeded, with one garnering hundreds of thousands of Facebook shares in just a few days.
Well-researched pieces rooted in reality without reaching for hyperbole rarely do very well online; for the most part, it takes some tricky/dramatic language and a major gem such as a viral video or major event to get traffic in the six or seven digits. This is why hoaxes and half-truths are able to take off like they do—the titles and graphics are usually so ridiculously overblown that people impulsively click and share without actually reading or vetting the information contained therein.
It calls back to that old saying that a lie can make it around the world before the truth has a chance to put its shoes on. By the time actual meteorologists are able to refute crappy weather hoaxes, millions of people have seen them and the truth doesn't get out in time to stem the damage.
Let's say you don't want to use your brain and you've decided to make your living on perpetrating ugly hoaxes on the internet. Here's a tutorial on how to accomplish your career goals as a Successful Internet B.S. Artist.
Your title has to be jarring, attention-getting, and most of all, a lie. You need to scare people into clicking your article or better yet, impulsively share it on Facebook and Twitter without even reading it! Make sure it's something that hits close to home, like Catastrophic, Record-Setting Blizzard Set to Grip Entire East Coast or Major Hurricane Forecast to Slam Florida This Week.
These two types of headlines exemplify two types of hoaxes; the slimy hoax and the half-educated hoax. The former is very similar to the Empire News/winter weather hoax going around, where the author attempts to sound like an authoritative source while pulling information out of their rear flank downdraft in order to fool people. The Empire News "satire" fully intended to trick people into thinking this was going to be a horrible winter, when there's no credible scientific evidence that this winter will go one way or the other.
The other type of hoax is the half-educated hoax, the kind perpetrated by the Kevin Martin crowd. Here we have a weather enthusiast who knows a little bit about meteorology but not enough to create informed forecasts or opinions on the topic. A little information is very dangerous when it falls into the wrong (or even malicious) hands. Folks like Kevin Martin take one run of one model and create an authoritative write-up to make it sound like this is an actual forecast based on the preponderance of data. The difference between the former and latter hoaxes is that the latter often contains a kernel of truth, making them even more dangerous.
You've got to have a scary map to go along with your hoax. Hundreds of millions of people live along the east coast, so your odds of fooling gullible people goes up exponentially when you mention areas where lots of people live. The Empire News winter weather hoax expertly put the bullseye for hundreds of inches of snow directly over the I-95 corridor between D.C. and Boston, knowing full well that this is where tens of millions of people live. Hoax or not, writing about population centers gets you beaucoup traffic.
Anyone can create a fake map. Hell, I created one above. It doesn't even have to look good. All you have to do is create a color-coded legend and it can be anything you want—snowfall, severe weather, threat of North Korea invading, Viagra shortages. The possibilities are endless!
Who said you have to have content? Write as much or as little as you want. It's the graphics and the title that sell your hoax on social media. If a 15-year-old girl can go into Paint and create a "plz like and repost or you hate jesus 1 like = 1 pray" graphic, post it on Facebook and get sixty thousand likes in an hour, then you can write a one-paragraph hoax and sell it like a loan shark two days before the rent is due.
Having to deal with hoaxes is a pain for people whose job it is to convey actual information to the public. When people see something like a blizzard hoax, they take it as fact. The public don't care who wrote it—the monolithic "they" predicted it. And when that phony prediction doesn't pan out, the public takes it out on the actual meteorologists who tried to debunk the baloney and give people correct information. Instead of shooting the messenger, people are strangling the messenger's neighbor from across the street.
Social media users should do some research before they post stuff on social media, but odds are, most people won't. It's the ever-growing trend of downward intelligence. If you don't have a conscience and want to get into the slimy hoax industry, business is booming, my friend.
[terrible top image by the author]