If you’re not familiar with Upworthy.com, the social justice-centric website known for its conscientious, edifying, positive content, just sign onto Facebook for a brief moment and wait for a somewhat distant Aunt or an over-30 cousin to post a link. Odds are, it will be Upworthy content. Think something along the lines of:
“I Never Thought I’d Want to High-Five a Teacher for Yelling at a Student, but I was Wrong”
“You’d Never Believe that Coca-Cola and Pepsi would Stoop So Low”
“The Subliminal Message in so many Animated Kids’ Movies and Shows isn’t About Violence”
Immediately, you’d be struck by the headline. It’s vague. It’s scary. It invites so many questions. I imagine the thought process of reader going a little something like this: “Subliminal messages in children’s entertainment? OUTRAGEOUS! I have a kid! NOT ON MY WATCH! It’s not about violence? WHAT COULD BE WORSE THAN VIOLENCE?!”
Obviously, this is followed by an angry click to the link to find out how the heck Disney is polluting young, impressionable minds. You must know. Immediately, upon clicking on any Upworthy.com link, your route to the article will be interrupted by something like this:
Likely still riled up from the incendiary headline, and feeling preemptive guilt at the prospect of clicking “no,” you declare to yourself and the internet “YES! I AGREE!” And now you are ready to find out about the evils of Pocahontas. But wait! Your pathway is further interrupted by this:
And you think to yourself, “YES! YES I DO! IT’S FOR THE CHILDREN!” (You still have not received an answer to the pressing question, “what is worse than violence?”) And you righteously enter your email address, probably not even your default aol handle from the early 00’s that you use for promotional offers, sneakily avoiding spam and unwanted newletters. No! You will use your much-protected gmail address because it’s for the children.
And just like that, you’ve subscribed to daily Upworthy life-changing content.
Now on to figure out how the next generation of innocents are being brainwashed into tiny weapons of destruction.
You begin to read the article. Desperate to find out the secret…
Wait. There’s a video. We still haven’t been told what’s happening to our children. Something about men. Oh look, it’s Gina Davis. What is she doing here?
“Ahhhh, I see. Women are underrepresented in fantasy crowd scenes. I see. Well, that was interesting. Should I still be upset? As upset as indoctrinating children with violence in cartoons? What am I supposed to do with all these feelings? I should read more of these rage-inducing articles in the sidebar here…”
And just like that, you are an Upworthy subscriber, reader, and look! You can share your outrage with all your Facebook buddies! Because they should know! And feel all the feelings I feel!
Now, it is important to note that I don’t necessarily disagree that subtly implying that a patriarchal, male-dominated society is the norm, even in Never Never Land, but I do resent being (metaphorically) lit on fire and sent running through the Internet screaming at the top of my lungs.
Upworthy’s model is designed to manipulate readers—to hook, outrage, inspire curiosity, leave questions unanswered until the last possible point of engagement, and then leave you to feel like a bad person that probably should care this deeply about more issues.
I, for one, feel used. Every single one of my heartstrings and fears pulled and tweaked. My primary email address given out. My mounting feelings of anger and concern were left deflated and anticlimactic. I’m tired now.
What are the implications of this style of content? If another news source were to employ these tactics, what would the reaction be? Is this level of manipulation okay because it’s for a good cause? Does this bother anyone else?