The Evolution of Fake Star Wars “News”

“The Force will be with you….always.” Obi-Wan Kenobi

You would be hard pressed to find a bigger Star Wars fan than Yours Truly. I was five years old when the first one hit theaters and I vividly remember that first viewing. My mind was beyond blown, and I sat there in the theater after the credits finished and the last note of John Williams’ iconic music had faded and I adamantly insisted that my mother let us watch it again, immediately.

Star Wars would go on to define my childhood, from seeing the movies over and over again (you know, in theaters, because there was no such thing as home video) to collecting absolutely every action figure and ship I could get my hands on. Video games weren’t really a thing back then, especially not at home, so my version of video games took the shape of epic space battles between the Empire, the Rebellion and the bounty hunters, all of whom had bases around my bedroom from which they launched blistering assaults upon each other.

Needless to say, I was at opening night of the latest installment, The Rise of Skywalker, and have seen it multiple times since then. I’m actually driving 11 hours to take my dad to see it this weekend. I loved it, my 8-year-old daughter loved it, and most of my friends who are, like me, lifelong Star Wars fans, found it delightfully satisfying. Apparently we’re not alone, as the film’s box office gross surpassed $1 billion a couple of days before this writing.

Why, then, do we see headlines talking about how bad the film is and what a disappointment or even “failure” it is for franchise owner Disney?

Simple. Click bait!

To fully understand this growing phenomenon in journalism we need to take a quick look at how the world of journalism has changed over the last 20 years. When I first started writing professionally (about basketball), we were pioneering internet content in a world dominated by print media. It took some work to just gain access to NBA teams, who were not sure what to make of digital content. Fortunately, Mark Cuban had just purchased the Dallas Mavericks and had to foresight to see where media was going. As such, I was handed a season credential to cover the Mavs and our company grew exponentially from there.

Journalists used to get paid primarily through subscriptions. People would subscribe to newspapers or magazines and those entities would pay their writers out of that revenue. Now the vast majority of content is absorbed for free on the internet, and while the aforementioned Mark Cuban has suggested some solutions that seem very workable, to this point no one has really found a way to come together to solve the revenue issue.

That brings us to click bait.

What websites have resorted to is running more and more ads, meaning they get paid when you click on their sites and more often than not the more lucrative “auto play” ads immediately assault you. I’m sure most of you do what I do, which is simply keep your speakers on mute at all times to avoid these ads. Websites get paid when you click, and some get paid more the longer you stay because they have progressive ads running up and down their pages.

Here are a few ways websites are using manipulative tactics to get you to visit and keep you reading:

  1. Deceptive/Provocative/Misleading Headlines: This is where the “Disney Disappointed by Rise of Skywalker Box Office Results” comes in. The story will start with something like “Sure, Star Wars just passed $1 billion, but….” and it goes from there. They choose Star Wars because it has broad appeal and they try to play on the idea that the new movie is either amazing or horrible, depending on which headline you believe. They find something most people are interested in, they write a provocative headline, and boom! They get paid when you click.
  2. A Tease That Never Delivers: A recent headline that I was ensnared by went something like this: “Tom Selleck Gets Heat For….” They leave off the important word to get you to click. Then, when you click, they spend a great deal of time introducing Tom Selleck, talking about his years as Magnum, PI, then his movie career (he was almost Indiana Jones, for example), Blue Bloods, and then, way down at the bottom of the article, after you’ve scrolled through a dozen or so advertisements, they finally get to the thing that Selleck gets heat over. The pay off is something so silly you wonder why you even clicked on the article to begin with. Honestly, I don’t even remember what it was he was getting “heat” over.
  3. Leaked Insider Information: This is probably my favorite. It pervades every area of news, from movies and sports to politics. Someone with inside information has joyfully given it to some member of the media and they are eager to share. Most of this information turns out to be false, of course. I read some of the leaks that came out about Star Wars, and most of it was completely false. That doesn’t matter now, though. I clicked, they got paid, nothing else matters to them. Of course, I also block them from my Google news feed…fool me once, as the old saying goes.

There are many other methods being used to prey on us, and some much more damaging than mere movie “news,” but those are three of the most common.

Can a movie that grossed $1 billion in its first month of release be qualified as a “disappointment”? Not rationally. The only reason I care about that at all is because the latest Star Wars movie passing $1 billion means we’re going to get more Star Wars very soon, and Star Wars is one of the few things that still gets me to shell out the big bucks to visit a movie theater. I certainly don’t care what people are saying about the film, as I am perfectly able to form my own opinion, and honestly I have probably spent more time in the Star Wars universe than any critic or random blogger.

The moral of the story here is to think for yourself, think critically, and be selective about what you click on. The more you click on crap, the more it will get loaded up in your news feed.

—-B

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