Why ‘vote in this online poll to beat the antis!’ is a silly thing to do

Every so often a left-wing media outlet – usually the Daily Mirror, or a local Trinity Mirror title – will publish an article saying how evil shooters/hunters/collectors/* (delete as applicable) are. Then a well-meaning person will start posting it on Facebook and forums, saying “come here and vote in this poll or the antis will win!”

I’m sorry to say it, but you’re playing directly into the antis’ hands by doing this. Here’s why.

Unlike journalism in the days of yore, when an avalanche of angry letters to the editor would make an errant reporter think again, internet news media are only concerned with three main metrics: clicks; time spent on site; and social media interactions. Broadly speaking, the higher each of these metrics are, the more adverts the publisher can sell.

You’ve probably seen the “like, share and comment on this [outrageous/cute] thing” meme images doing the rounds. These are a pretty transparent way of gaming Facebook’s News Feed algorithms. The algo works by measuring how popular a particular piece of content (a picture or a video) is. Popularity is defined by likes, comments and shares. The more of those a pic or vid gets, the more people Facebook will display the pic or vid to, typically in the News Feed as something that a friend has liked or commented on.

See how it works yet? The same holds true for links (news stories) too.

From the news outlet’s point of view, all they want is higher metrics. It’s quite easy to achieve these by publishing clickbait – “Animal rights activsts outraged over hunting [POLL]”, for example – and heavily favouring one side in the story. You can guarantee the other side will wade in en masse to furiously vote in any embedded polls and share the rage-inducing story to other similarly outraged people … all of whom will click and comment.

The next time you see one of these stories, ignore it. Don’t click. Don’t comment. Don’t like. Don’t share. Speak about it in general terms if you must (or come and tell me about it so I can write what a load of tosh it is!) but don’t try and play them at their own game.

Postscript

Some people think, quite legitimately, that voting in these online polls shows the strength of public feeling about that day’s Public Enemy No.1. Just remember that the political class based its predictions of the 2015 General Election on what social media users thought. Twitter users certainly convinced themselves that a narrow Labour victory was on the cards.

Instead we had a Conservative landslide.

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