Once you've clicked on a few posts that promised to make you cry or change your view of the world forever but didn't deliver, your default assumption will become that when you see something like that, it means somebody's trying to get you to be a part of something artificial.Yeah, but you've kind of got to give the people who do that kind of virality-by-headline credit for being so terribly transparent. How is anyone even fooled? It's as if your 5-year-old child ran up to you squealing "Ooh, Daddy, look, this is really really cute!" I feel a little embarrassed for these people sometimes. They are adults who've decided to write like a bunch of little girls talking about their little ponies.
I'm pretty sure these headline writers assuage their shame by nurturing their belief that it's all somehow ironic and somehow even edgy and not completely smooshy.
How dumb do you need to be to believe the headline's promise that you'll go all gooey or experience a new charge of hope for humanity? Well, if you're a little slow, then as the above-linked piece predicts, you'll probably eventually learn that it's a come-on, just as you've abandoned any shred of hope that — as it says in the email — you really have won a million dollars and just as, years ago, you were able to remain motionless in your recliner when the late-night TV huckster yelled that you must act now.
I'm more worried that these heavy-handed urgings will dull our response to subtler manipulations. The truly dangerous propaganda isn't about a kitten being cute or a dog welcoming a war veteran. That's the candy of pop culture that might waste our time and do nothing to alleviate our shallowness. We may learn that candy is candy, but that's not much insight at all. Maybe the real trick of places like Buzzfeed and Upworthy is that they get you only so far, far enough to notice and resist/resent sharp pokes in the ribs and to become complacent about your jadedness. And that's what leaves you open and vulnerable to the less obvious propaganda that permeates everything else.