Questionable click-bait

A few weeks ago, my Facebook page had a so-called sponsored post from the New York Times, with the headline “Why This Economy Needs Donald Trump”. I found it odd that the NY Times should propose such a thing, as this wasn’t exactly consistent with the newspaper’s editorial line. I clicked on the link to see if there was some kind of irony in the headline, something along the lines of A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle, but no. This was a piece written by David Malpass, of whom Wikipedia states: “David R. Malpass is an American economist and also ran in the 2010 Republican primary for U.S. Senate in New York. He is the founder and president of Encima Global LLC, an economic research and consulting firm based in New York City.” He is also senior economic adviser to the Trump campaign. This Republican economist managed to state some reasons why he actually believed what the headline said, and The New York had found it opportune to print his argument.

Since NYT printed it, conservative bloggers and media have expressed surprised delight at finding this piece in that newspaper. In rightwingnews, you can find the following comment by a William Teach: “Meanwhile, the New York Times allows David Malpas [sic!], a senior economic advisor to the Trump campaign (yeah, I was kinda shocked that he had one, too), to write an op-ed, which received Internet front page status, all of which is rather unusual for the Fish Wrap.” Whereas rightwinggranny writes: “Wow. The opinion page of the New York Times today posted an article entitled, “Why This Economy Needs Donald Trump.” The article was written by David Malpass, a senior economic adviser to the Trump campaign.”

Well, we have a free press, and it is generally a good thing that different views are presented in publications with a widespread readership, so I shrugged it off. I normally read several articles from the NYT every day, and this was hardly representative of the paper as such.

But the piece never left me alone. In the weeks since it ran — on September 1st — it has been popping up in my feed, if not every day, then nearly so. And it gives me a jolt every time I see it, as it looks like the paper is really trying to sell this concept. This piece apparently has taken precedence over all other articles I have read and is acting like the bully which is its subject.

I am aware that the explanation is likely some kind of cookie-based algorithm, either on Facebook’s or NYT’s part. Because I clicked on the headline, I am now stuck in this Trump-hell forever. They probably don’t send this post out to a select number of Facebook users — or who knows? Maybe they do? What if they do?

Regardless of the details of the explanation, though, this is pretty alarming. If the paper is not aware of using this piece as click-bait, but rely solely on computer-generated marketing, that raises serious questions about marketing of content. Are there really no editorial decisions involved in choosing what content to push, and if so, why would they think it would be a good idea to leave that to robots?

And if there is an editorial decision involved, I wonder which editor that would be, and whether that editor answers to the newspaper’s editorial board. Could this actually be some kind of low-level marketing executive who is pushing his/her own agenda, unbeknownst to the editors?

For the fact of the matter is: Every day I see this headline and his picture plastered on my screen, and I feel like someone is trying to brainwash me. Now I think myself immune to that, but are other people? How many people have been plagued by this piece for three weeks? And how many see it and think, in passing, without even reading the story: If the New York Times makes such a claim, it must be true?