The Buzzfeedification of Bullshit

Hey, heard the one about the Ugandan President’s daughter? She’s trending on Twitter, and for the best possible reason – right after her father backed some really hideous homophobic laws, she came out as gay. Except, you know, she didn’t.

Ten seconds on Google tells you that Diana Kamuntu is, or at least was, married to a guy. She could have divorced him and then come out, of course, but when the sole original source is called “Abril Uno” (um) and even carries a disclaimer (“Abril Uno is a satire, parody and spoof web publication”), you can be pretty sure the story’s nonsense.

But what shareable nonsense, right?

This seems to be a new twist on a phenomenon I wrote about last year. Last time it was made-up scare stories and exaggerated disasters, but this time the sites in question have found something even more tweet-worthy: a good tale of ironic comeuppance, in this case for President Museveni. This isn’t the first case – in fact, it’s not even the first attempt of “child of homophobic dictator comes out” – recently it was (or wasn’t) Robert Mugabe’s son. Both even “came out” on conveniently not-recorded talk radio.

So that’s the trick – make a share-worthy headline, even if it isn’t true, let it loose on the internet then sit back and wait for the Google Ad impressions. You can even stick a disclaimer on there, noting that the story’s nonsense, and people will still share it – after all, few are reading beyond the  headline, let alone the lede. And the sites that rip you off (and there are several already) won’t copy the disclaimer, anyhow.

It’s interesting to see the people behind this kind of trick learn from the success of the legitimate sites that have turned share-optimisation into an artform. Whatever you think of Buzzfeed (It’s going to save journalism! It’s going to destroy journalism! It’s going to tell me that I’m Sonic Youth after I fill in an online quiz, and hey, I would have preferred Sleater Kinney, but whatever and shit wasn’t I working on something?), it’s certainly successful at crafting headlines (and stories) that tickle our need to pass on the link to everyone we know. But it is, fundamentally, constrained by the desire to publish pieces that are, you know, not completely made-up.

Abril Uno, and its ilk, don’t have this limitation. Now watch them go.