Autoplay Is the New 'Clickbait': a Scapegoat for What We Don't Like Online
In order to play the content farm game, everyone must autoplay.
In Bedford, VA this week, Vester Flanagan acted as a killer who was motivated to deliver compelling, viral content built for the social mediums of today. He succeeded, his message spread, and he forced us to think about race, mental health, and workplace safety. In the midst of the coverage of his live Twitter rants, manifesto, and tracking by way of cell phone triangulation, the content consumers of the world somehow focused on autoplaying videos.
Internet user rights had been violated due to forced exposure to violent content. So what if we are familiar with the terms of service on Facebook, Twitter, and perpetually giving away data from our browser sessions? Innocent internet users should not be forced into content consumption against their will.
Autoplay has established itself as a buzzword that frustrated content consumers can use to explain one of many problems with their online media experiences. It is the new clickbait, now that "clickbait" content has become so ubiquitous that the word hardly carries any meaning. Everything is structured clickbait on the internet, and autoplay is a necessary feature of monetization on this broken internet. But the content consumer can't be expected to avoid clickbait headlines, judge the authority of a website by its CSS, pause autoloading videos, and absorb meaningful information in a matter of seconds. It's all exhausting.
The social media army of internet users predictably turned the cultural narrative within, wondering if it was fair for them to see this graphic content in their daily content stream. Whether they saw it on a news website, a generalist content farm, or a passively shared Facebook video with a half-hearted "warning," even the media fueled the anti-media flames by publishing stories documenting the ethical narratives from this shooting centered around autoplaying rights. No one should be forced to view videos or content that they didn't actually click on. The internet should be static with just words, pictures, and clearly labeled links to authentic content that is accurately represented in social network embedded links.
If you believe in that version of the internet, you might as well go back to a time before RSS feeds. A time when videos couldn't play within browsers. You might even be happy when Flash was still supported and relevant. You're the one paying for high-speed internet on your phone and at home, so content farms will do everything they can to use it all up, even if that means sending graphic content your way.
The internet should be static with just words, pictures, and clearly labeled links to authentic content that is accurately represented in social network embedded links
The idea of the content farms of today delivering static content would mean that they aren't doing their jobs to create dynamic, immersive content that helps their brand to reach more users at all costs. They would be willingly losing their edge against other big box content farms. They would be sabotaging their own growth, failing to monetize video content on content that they didn't even have to produce in-house.
It sounds cruel, but scaling a content farm is not an ethical practice.
Put yourself in the eyes of the content farm. Beyond thinkpieces like this one, or "how to turn off autoplay" SEO posts, this tragic murder captured on video is the most engaging form of content. They must deliver this content because everyone else is. It's not journalism, it's feeding the algorithm of social popularity with diversified content streams. While the media cycle surrounding tragedy may be an authentic form of mourning for some, content farms are in the business of diversifying the takes, narratives, and relational content paths to engage users/readers.
Video content is about as engaging as we would like content to be. It is the ceiling of potential human engagement, no matter if it is streamed to a Roku, fed through a Time Warner Cable cable box, or autoplayed as you scroll Facebook. The expectation to somehow escape from video content is now an unreasonable expectation in the current media paradigm, especially as Facebook video became such an essential strategy for big box content farm growth.
It's important to think about the rise of Facebook video as the most watched source of internet videos on desktops, and closing in on YouTube for mobile views. While YouTube touted a billion monthly viewersat the beginning of 2015, Facebook is obviously aiming to turn its billion daily visitors into video watchers. Content farms that are using Facebook to scale their sites to the masses use Facebook video as a way to engage more users, since the newsfeed algorithm favors users and pages that post video content over those who post pictures, texts, and links. Video uploaded to Facebook keeps users immersed. This helps Facebook and it helps the content farms play by the rules of Facebook while they can flaunt engagement analytics.
Every arm of the content farm's growth strategy must be questioned. Content farms upload highly shareable clips into social networks, knowing that brief clips get significant engagement, even horrific murder videos. Despite the content not belonging to the uploader, the content farm is only interested in scaling. It doesn't matter how graphic the content is in violent or sexual nature. The social media service wants everyone to be dependent and engaged on the social media service.
Everyday, internet users become more self-aware. They understand that there is an architecture of oppression on the internet that almost matches the same oppressive standards in their everyday lives. From the way a web page is built in columns to the embedded videos that autoplay at the top of news stories that are just an excuse to run an ad—the authenticity of information is compromised by the code behind every page of strategically produced information.
The autoplay debate is a byproduct of the outrage and confusion over innocent lives' being taken away
The autoplay debate is the content consumer's bubbling frustration with algorithmically curated media consumption. Consuming endless content based on unknown factors that have been determined as "optimized" for you is terrible. There is a legitimate frustration with the way that an endless supply of graphically inconsequential content crosses our paths every day. While there is horror in unwillingly watching the murder of Alison Parker and Adam Ward, it is more troubling to experience the moment alongside the minutiae of daily life as a forcefed media consumer.
Content farms that are dependent upon autoplaying for advertising and maximum social engagement covered the rise of autoplay. They pandered to the view of content consumers, letting them continue their content consumption cycles that only feed into the problems that they have with algorithm-influenced news that consumers are labeling as "clickbait." Autoplay is the cousin of clickbait, coming to freeze your device, waste your time, and make you look unprofessional when you shouldn't be killing time at work.
The autoplay debate is a byproduct of the outrage and confusion over innocent lives' being taken away. We should have the ability to avoid content in undesirable formats, even from a pure bandwidth perspective. In a world where you are roped into endlessly scrolling pages, related links, and location-forfeiting and cookie-driven user experiences, autoplay has finally become obscene enough to warrant deeper discussion. The faceless army of internet users want to feel like they are more than just another tick in a view count. They want to believe that they purposefully navigated to the content in front of them. Content farms and social networks shouldn't force them into content consumption to justify their own growth.
Societal tragedies only add more layers of sadness and confusion to the human experience. There is no sense to make of a tragedy when the world is presented to us as an endless supply of content that only exists to be leveraged for your immediate engagement. The problem isn't with autoplaying videos, it is with the emerging universal media experience of baiting, switching, and pooling unique views into value at all costs.