Thursday, January 16, 2020

What's the Catch of Clickbait?

Harvard Law Professor Larry Lessig is suing the New York Times for defamation, stemming from a headline that read "A Harvard Professor Doubles Down: If You Take Epstein’s Money, Do It in Secret". The lede of the article, in turn, opens by saying "It is hard to defend soliciting donations from the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. But Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard Law professor, has been trying."

Lessig contends that this grotesquely misrepresents the position he was taking, which is to not condemn fundraisers when some of the donors they solicit turn out to be unsavory or disreputable. He also asserts that the Times refused to alter its headline or lede after Lessig complained, preferring a flashy and provocative (albeit misleading) title to one that more accurately (but dully) reflects Lessig's actual view. While the article does give a more balanced presentation of his argument later on, Lessig contends that many people never read past the headline and so will only come away with a false picture.

This is all very interesting to defamation scholars, I'm sure. But I want to focus on what has to be the least important aspect of Lessig's complaint: What does "click-bait" mean?
Defendant's actions here are part of a growing journalistic culture of click-baiting. . . . Defendants are fully aware that many, if not most, readers never read past the clickbait...The use of this tactic represents a uniquely troubling media practice as it relates to the harm to and destruction of the reputation of the target of the clickbait.
Here's my bone of contention: clearly there is an issue whereby readers see only a headline and read no further, rendering moot the presence of a more complex depiction in the body text.

But it strikes me as weird to use "clickbait" to characterize the phenomenon. "Clickbait" literally refers to the use of a provocative or flashy headline as means of prompting ("baiting") readers to access ("click") the whole article. The idea is that the title is so juicy and irresistible that the person who sees it on, say, Facebook cannot help but click the link and read the article.

Now to be sure, part of the function of click-bait is that the site owner only cares about the click, that is, that the reader accessed the page (and thereby juices the site's hit rate for ad revenue purposes). The site probably doesn't care if the reader actually ends up reading any of the article text, much less if she completes it. Indeed, it seems likely that many of the readers who are attracted by the title ("oh man, this I've got to see!") will drift away disappointed once they encountered the more prosaic story underneath.

Nonetheless, it strikes me as a weird to say that "readers never read past the clickbait", because the whole purpose of the clickbait is to drive them to the site with the full article. If they only read the clickbait, then the clickbait has failed, because the actual "clickbait" is the content that one can see without ever clicking through to the site. If the New York Times runs a headline like this, the last thing they want is for me to see that headline on Facebook and then read nothing more. They want the bait to catch me -- for me to click the link and actually head over to the NYT site (where I will, presumably, read at least a little more of the article before realizing I've been, well, baited).

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Delaware GOP Ousts Official Over Antisemitic Remarks

Nelly Jordan, Vice-Chairwoman of the Sussex County (Delaware) GOP, has been ousted from her position after she blamed "Jews" for orchestrating Trump's impeachment and said that they were "going against God's will". Quick thoughts:

  • It's good they did this. I've noted before that the GOP has proven incredibly resistant to implementing any accountability for antisemitism in its party, and this is a welcome break from that trend.
  • That said, the vote was apparently razor-thin, with large numbers of people showing up to back Jordan and rail against "political correctness" and in support of "free speech". So there was significant division in the ranks on this.
  • Quoth one local Republican: "If we were to throw everybody out here who made a racial/ethnic remark, this place would be totally empty." Hey, you said it, not me!
  • Jordan did apologize for her remarks, and -- in what I consider to be an unbelievable upset -- she did not say "I am a strong supporter of Israel". Not once! I wish I wasn't shocked, but I was. Well done, Ms. Jordan!
In other Delaware news, a different GOP official, New Castle GOP Chairman Chris Rowe, resigned after referring to ideological opponents as "faggots" in a social media post. Though he resigned, he wants you to know that:
The Disgrace was not mine, but displayed how weak & timid society has devolved by allowing itself to be injured & offended by viewing a printed word. The words uttered by the Left are words employed by the mentally weak to push shame upon those with which they disagree. They assume because they would be offended, so would their targeted individual or group. Then again, being mentally strong, I do not get offended by words as is your aim.
Kudos to Rowe for showing how mentally strong he is (he proceeded to text the local newspaper and inform them that "The Cancel Culture are now attacking me and causing me hurt.")

Sunday, January 12, 2020

One More Reason Why Black Voters Back Biden

Joe Biden's status as front-runner, right now, rests almost entirely on the fact that he is far and away the top choice of African-American voters. There are many explanations for why Black voters like Biden, but I'll add one more, rather simple explanation, to the fray:

As a group, Black voters are more liberal than the average American. But they're not so much more liberal so as to explain voting upwards of 90% for Democratic candidates. You only reach those august heights when a good chunk of Black voters who might otherwise be Republicans are Democrats solely because the the Republican Party is unacceptably racist. Indeed, there are plenty of Black voters who identify as conservative -- they just don't identify as Republicans. What that means is that there is a good chunk of relatively conservative Black voters who are Democrats. A full 30% of Black Democrats identify as having "conservative" political views (compared to 8% of White Democrats).

So given that there are actually plenty of Black conservatives, a large proportion -- maybe even a majority! -- of whom nonetheless identify as Democrats, it's maybe not that surprising that one sees a cluster of support among Black voters for one of the more high-profile moderates in the race.

And, for what it's worth, this also helps explain why Bernie Sanders -- who has the second-highest level of Black support (Biden is at 48%, Sanders at 20%) -- wins among Black voters under 35. Voters under 35, across all races, represent a more liberal demographic. The corollary to "more conservative Blacks back candidates like Biden" is "more liberal Blacks back candidates like Sanders". That might sound obvious, and in many ways it is -- what obscures it is that we mentally sharply underestimate levels of conservativism (or even moderation) among Black voters because of their overwhelming partisan lean towards Democrats.