Here’s a short lesson on internet ad revenue and why you lose every time you share a viewpoint you don’t agree with or a story you don’t like to show how foolish it is.
The Internet is an attention-based economy. People don’t even have to sell products to make money because of an income model called “CPM.”
CPM means “cost per thousand” (M for “mil” or thousand from Roman numerals). If a website charges $2.00 CPM, then for every 1,000 impressions (page views), they earn two bucks.
I want to be very clear here: you never have to buy anything. You don’t even have to read the ad. The mere fact that it populates on your screen is enough for it to count.
News sites know how the income model works. They don’t need you to read the article. They only need it to load for an impression to be logged. This is why you’ve seen the rise of headlines that are sensationalist to the point of being wrong.
Facts are boring. Exaggeration of those facts tends not to be so dull.
Maybe you’ll read through and see that the body of the article is dramatically different from what the headline suggests, but it doesn’t matter. They still got paid.
Now, if you’re thinking, you’re asking yourself, “How does this continue if no one ever buys? Don’t the companies realize this?” Well, even if you don’t buy from the ad, now they’ve entered your awareness.
News sites have reliable traffic. You might not click on the ad when you see it, but—given the sheer complexity and accuracy of the data models used to serve ads—it’s highly likely that you’ll purchase the product at some point.
You’re being shown exactly what *you* need. That’s the science of advertising today, especially in the CPM model.
The people who write these headlines are not stupid. The headlines generate engagement, especially on social media. A right-wing political take will be cheered by the right and attacked by the left, generating massive engagement as it’s shared on social media.
When you’re in a war, the best side to be on is the one who sells the weapons.
Each time you share something, you give it a new node in the network. The power of a network is about 2N^2, so each share is exponential growth. If you really disagree with the post, the best thing is to ignore it. Starve it for oxygen so the fire burns out.
Even if most people did this, I don’t think it would do much to slow the tide of heavily biased, sensationalist content. But it will make you happier and more productive.
One of the greatest sources of stress is worrying about things you can’t control. Also, time is zero-sum. This means that every minute spent engaging with divisive content is 60 seconds you lose learning, loving, and creating.
I’ll end this newsletter with a story from the 2016 American presidential election between Donald Trump and Hilarity Clinton.
The Streisand Effect
Donald Trump was coming to my city, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As per usual, tons of anti-Trump, pro-Clinton protesters lined up and made a scene. And, as per usual, the media caught it all. The protesters made the media’s job easy by promoting that there would be a massive protest.
Imagine if they used that energy to draw out all of the Clinton supporters to hear her daughter speak. Chelsea Clinton was in town that same day, speaking on the other side of town. This is a classic example of something called The Streisand Effect,
The Streisand effect refers to the unintended outcome of trying to conceal, delete, or restrict information, as these efforts paradoxically raise awareness about the information. The phenomenon comes from Barbra Streisand, the American singer and actress. In 2003, her attempt to suppress a photograph of her home on the Malibu cliff, taken for documenting coastal erosion by the California Coastal Records Project, inadvertently brought even more attention to her massive home, which was contributing.
The protesters looked crazy and made Trump look like a sane alternative to Clinton’s supporters. It must have worked because Pennsylvania voted by a margin of just 0.72% for Trump. If only they understood The Streisand Effect and the higher-order effect of their actions, maybe they would have ignored Trump and focused on doubling down on their own candidate.
Most won’t get it, use it, or they’ll think I’m crazy, but all social media networks and advertisers know that you can’t help yourself—and make a lot of money because you lack control. It was confirmed in 2021 that Facebook gives posts that receive the “anger” emoji a 5x boost over posts that receive a much more positive “like.”
The media creates division because division creates engagement, and engagement drives dollars. Your lack of emotional control is paying for someone’s mansion, lambo, and vacation.
Are you ok with that? I sure hope not.
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I’m a former heavyweight pro-boxer (13-1-1) and alcoholic (Sobriety date 12/23/13), current writer, and aspiring chess master. I was raised in the projects by a single mom and failed high school, but I eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in Physics.More Stoic Street Smarts Newsletters!