Browsing and clicking matter

In one of our readings for EC&I 832 (Chapter 2 of Media Literacies by Potter), a continuum of media literacy is described with the pinnacle being Socially Responsible media literacy (p. 34-35). This got me thinking about a point I had raised elsewhere, that of the impact of our views and clicks.

Click. Public Domain image from Pixabay

Most of us browse the internet, share links, use apps with a basic understanding that someone created the content for a purpose, sharing it spreads a message, and apps are purchased and downloaded with a creator benefiting potentially. These are wide generalizations and there are a lot of nuances ignored and I am sure that many people think more about this. But let’s, for argument’s sake, let us assume that most people using the internet and apps are at the Intensive development stage and they are critical about the content but may have missed some of the messages, to refer to McLuhan, being conveyed within the medium.

The discussion that really got me thinking began around ads. Barbara DeWitt shared a video about filter bubbles which included some discussion about ads and resulted in Alec and I talking about ad blockers and the morality of using them. The short version is that ads are often influenced by the internet’s awareness of what we are up to, what we browse, sites where we have accepted cookies, searches we make, what we are logged into. (The ways browsers track us and the amount of data out there about our habits is a whole other issue.) They change ads based on that to target to us because views and clicks mean money. Actually, that is the whole premise of many of the companies that offer internet ads, including Facebook. For people to see your ad, you pay. Sites that display the ads get paid because people see the ads and click on them to go to advertisers sites. Basic, pretty obvious, right?

Let’s just talk about that for a second and break it down a bit more to get at the message and the medium. Although on some level it is sort of possible to share something to the internet for free, in reality not so much. That information is being stored on a computer somewhere (and that computer itself costs money, the connection to the internet costs money, the electricity costs money, the people who make sure that computer still works cost money, etc). For people who run sites we find interesting, there is a cost. A free site on WordPress still has ads (because the people who run the free WordPress need to pay for the computers that host all those sites and the connection that allows people to access the sites). You can pay if you want to do things differently. For example, I pay someone to let me store my website on their server and connect that server to the internet so I can make many more decisions about my website. If those sites require money to keep things going, and they use ads to help with that, and we choose not to click or even choose to use an ad blocker, then we are actually guaranteeing that they get no money out of our presence. We are costing them money without giving anything back. The result is that they may not be able to afford their site or they may have to do something different to afford it (running ads another way, paid subscription, requesting donations, etc).

As people using the internet, it is actually pretty important that we start to think about this. The content we love might be there, at least for now, but how do we support that? Are some sites worth supporting through advertiser’s links, donations, clicking and seeing ads?

Views count on the internet. It is a variety of currency, to know how many people have viewed something. When it comes with ads, it really does become currency if the creator can state that they get so many page views and thus advertisers will have their ads seen by X number of people. With that in mind, it is important that we think carefully about what we do click and share. We have all been there, encountering something that we know we won’t like but we still go to that site and read it (or watch it, listen to it, etc). Have you ever thought about what that means, though? You just gave that item you oppose another view. You may have made the site money. You could have bumped it up in algorithms that track popular items. That kind of thing is often called hate reading. To be honest, if you don’t like it, the best policy is to not give it your eyes or ears. Don’t share the link. Don’t link to it. I have come across a few sites that actively do not link to something they are discussing because they do not want to give that thing views.

How many of us have thought this all through before? How many of us are hitting the Socially Responsible media literacy level of where we go and what we do digitally? This can include apps as some of them also have ads and you can pay not to see the ads. Or games that include in-game purchases.

So do we ever talk about this with our students? I know I have given an assignment to evaluate a website but at the time had not thought through what it could mean if my students were going to sites that they might object to. I’m not talking about visiting sites that are obviously a concern (porn, hate sites, bomb making sites, etc), just sites that say things you dislike, have content you disagree with, and that have messages that trouble you. I know I have started to think more carefully about where I go on the internet, what I click, what I read.

What about you? Do you hate-read/watch/listen? Do you use an ad blocker? Are there sites that you intentionally support?

Updated: Alec just shared an article about ads from the publisher side. Interesting stuff to think about!

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