Reasons why you should stop sharing list articles

By Sophia Al Rasheed

Spoiler alert: This is not a list.

It’s nearly impossible to scroll through social media sites without finding a link concerning a list such as “25 things to do before you turn 25” or “best places to party before you die.” 

The Buzzfeed-inspired lists have hit popularity on many Internet news sites, including The Huffington Post and Slate.

There are two main reasons I came up with as to why these “articles” are being shared so frequently, despite their lack of substance and the pretention of an author who feels the need to share his or her experiences. First of all, these lists prove that we do something with our time on Facebook aside from prying into each other’s business. More importantly, however, we usually find some shallow, general connection to one of the many items listed.

As much as these lists make readers feel “understood,” their fate ultimately depends on our ability to quit sharing them. They cheapen the appeal of actual Internet-canvassed news articles by being passed around like a large-scale inside joke.

I fell prey to this last week, when The Huffington Post published an article describing the 19 most interesting colleges. Why they couldn’t find a 20th college to make the list more clean-cut still bothers me, but this became the least of my annoyances. After I saw that Pitt was on the list, I wasn’t surprised that it popped up on my newsfeed a few times, with heart emojis and #H2P.

To my surprise, the article didn’t really have anything that would make me proud to repost it, and it certainly didn’t bring attention to anything that we couldn’t have easily observed ourselves. Pitt’s “interesting” characteristics included a few sentences about its supposedly hipster zip code — according to RealtyTrac, which considered South Side a future hipster hangout because of its high rental return rate — and the fact that the Cathedral of Learning looks like Hogwarts. Despite the fact that every other college on the list featured a description of its accomplishments alongside truly interesting characteristics, many Pitt students on my news feed (and those not on it, I assume) felt enough pride to share this news.

The main issue I had with the article was that someone without credentials felt the need to take up perfectly good internet space just to voice their “much-needed” opinion and create yet another “much-needed” list. But readers continuing to blindly share these articles just for the sake of relating to them somehow highlights how ultimately narcissistic these lists are, on both the level of the author and the level of the reader.

Sadly, there’s little reason to believe that the number of lists will decrease after simply running out of topics to cover. Wherever there’s a self-centered person with access to the Internet, there’s bound to be a list to create some unnecessary post for sharing. If you type “25 signs you…” in a search bar, the first two results that appear are “25 signs you’re addicted to Diet Coke” and “25 signs you’re a hot mess.” Apparently, you can create a list about anything.

Moreover, there are perfectly good examples of Internet news with actual content that deserve much more attention. These pieces are crafted by writers who have taken the time to actually understand their content. These aren’t just in the hands of paid news sites; these can come from unpaid bloggers who have existed long before the list era. In an era in which print is increasingly being replaced by the web, it should become a habit to seek actual content on the Internet, rather than wasting our time with yet another fluffed-up distraction.

In actuality, the survival of reputable Internet sites might rely on our ability to look for news and not blindly click on whatever pops up on our feed.  Facebook recently announced that it will launch a “paper” app in response to the increased amount of trafficking to new sites. The good news: It will likely filter out these unnecessary list articles from distraction websites. The bad news: It could take the main benefit of web-based news out of the picture; namely, turning toward advertising and money-based popularity.

If you’re looking for a way to trick your reader into thinking you have credibility, say, enough to post about “20 things to do in your twenties,” then an easy-to-read, content-cheapened list post is the strategy to use.

But if you care at all about the already imperfect Internet data and shaky web-based news attention being allotted reputably, keep these lists to yourself.

Write to Sophia at [email protected].