I always say that only crazy people write manifestos. I think Ted Kaczynski would agree with me. Or maybe not. He’s crazy.
I suppose I’m crazy too, and I have BuzzFeed quizzes to thank for it. If I see one more friend on Facebook post what New Girl character they are or what flavor ice cream they are or what kind of Halloween costume their cat should wear, I may have to be committed.
So here is my manifesto against BuzzFeed. Hundreds of years ago, people used to be much more direct, and just titled stuff “Against so and so.” No messing around, just pure anger against someone. So let me say, very clearly, that I hate everything about BuzzFeed. Never send me anything from BuzzFeed. Ever.
Now, I admit that I’ve been drawn in occasionally by the siren song of celebrity gossip and ‘90’s nostalgia (These lists, along with cat videos, make up 109 percent of the internet ). But this, to quote the great comedian Jim Gaffigan, is my McDonalds.
But it is precisely because I am so drawn to it that I hate it. Now, before you tell me that I’m one of those people that hates anything fun or anything that isn’t easy to read, calm down. What’s so bad about BuzzFeed is not that it is so easily consumable. It is a McDonald’s French fry. What makes that fry so dangerous is that sometimes it pretends to be a salad.
Now, I don’t think anyone at BuzzFeed pretends that 14 gifs of Rugrats characters are promoting anything good, but right next to that article there will always be some article about a social or political issue. Next to that “Which Mean Girls character are you?” quiz there will inevitably be some article exploring race relations in America.
I have no problem with exploring race relations in America, or even with Mean Girls (I have seen that movie far more times than I care to admit). What I do have a problem with is mixing content that has no right to be mixed. The frivolous and the serious, when juxtaposed, cancel one another out. Instead of a focused look at an issue, or a bit of frivolous fun, we have instead fun mixed with a feeling of guilt at not looking at more issues, and serious issues that feel like a distraction from the fun.
It wouldn’t be as big of a deal to have these two conflicting messages together, but both of them are bad on their own. If both their politics and their fun sections were well done, it might not be such an issue. Look at sites like the Atlantic or even something like Mental Floss. They manage to take serious, in-depth looks at both the frivolous and the thoughtful. The latter site mixes interesting facts like the origin of jack-o-lanterns with an in-depth look at how Tupperware gave women in the early ‘50s a chance to enter the public economic sphere. The common thread here? Both articles take researched, thought-out ideas and crafted them into interesting articles.
What bothers me most about BuzzFeed’s take on social and political issues is that they lack nuance of any kind. Racial inequality isn’t something that will be solved in 12 GIFs, especially when those GIFs are surrounded by other clickbait vying for your attention.
BuzzFeed’s reporting relies on quick attention and shaming. You either agree with the opinion given or simply move on. There isn’t room for honest nuance or discussion when something is so completely one-sided (or so short). I once read an internet beatitude that read something like, “Blessed are those who share only what those who share their opinions write.” BuzzFeed relies on angry internet users sharing opinions and yelling at everyone who doesn’t share those opinions. This isn’t changing anything, it’s adding white noise into debates that already have enough noise around them.
Now I know that BuzzFeed also has some great original reporting, actually in article form without resorting to low-quality film clips. But to use the McDonald’s analogy again, it’s like putting lettuce on a burger. Sure it might make the burger a little more healthy, but ultimately it will still make you fat. No one ever just orders salad at McDonalds (You’re lying to yourself if you do. Everyone saw you take that fry).
Their good articles have also come under suspicion. They’ve been rocked by plagiarism scandals for years. After one of their writers, Benny Johnson, was fired for plagiarism, they deleted over 4000 articles (not all of them his). If all of their news reporting was good, then it might not be such a bad thing. Instead there exists this odd mixture of picture spewage and honest reporting.
But even their non-news articles are a problem. A sea of bright images and titles creates an annoying layout that constantly distracts like the outside of a Vegas casino.
ClickHole, a website designed directly to parody clickbait websites like BuzzFeed, perfectly captures just how annoying the BuzzFeed titles can be. Stick the word “Amazing” or “Incredible” and a picture of puppies or a doctor and an article without substance is born. I like to play a game with my friends where I ask them to identify if an article is from BuzzFeed or ClickHole. Sometimes it’s hard to tell, because BuzzFeed seems perilously close to making fun of itself at all times, and ClickHole has gotten good at reading their patterns.
So this is my manifesto. BuzzFeed is bad, not just because it looks like a web designer threw up thousands of exclamation points, but because it tries to be what it’s not. It tries to make you feel good about junk, but that junk is just really bad content covered up with a layer of Nutella (10 Nutella hacks that Science says are Healthy!). So if you’re going to eat garbage, make sure it’s not hurting anyone. And if you’re trying to eat salad, make sure it’s actually good for you, and not just a fry.
Photo Credit: Flickr with modification of BuzzFeed Logo