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If You Don’t Expect It, Suspect It

Readers of this blog know I’ve got a bee in my bonnet when it comes to the culture of over-sharing that exists—and is encouraged—online. From the start is has been one of the topics most often addressed in this forum, and an issue I’ll continue to preach on.

Lately my ire has been directed at a viral content farm known as Upworthy.

If you are on Facebook you know the one. Chances are you have two or three updates on your wall already this morning. They are there thanks to well-meaning friends and family members who just couldn’t resist clicking (and of course sharing) the outrageous, unbelievable, heartwarming and inspiring stories tantalizingly hidden behind those treacly headlines.

Now, I’ve got no issue with the outrageous, the unbelievable, the heartwarming, or the inspiring. I do, however, find the tactic used by Upworthy to generate clicks and shares to be insidious.

Upworthy feeds on the same impulsive nature that allows phishers to ply their trade so successfully. People are inquisitive creatures. We want the feel-good sensation from that little boost of endorphins that comes when something tickles our fancy. Whether or not we want to admit it, we can’t help ourselves: we want to see that video of someone getting their comeuppance; we want to witness the acts of the righteously indignant. And we want to see the funny or gruesome results of whatever unexpected misfortune has befallen the famous.

In the privacy of our homes, or in a quiet moment with our mobile device, the promise contained behind that link might catch us with our guard down and, overcome with curiosity, we click.

Clicking the Upworthy link may not be dangerous in and of itself—I am not aware of any malware or viruses spread by the content they’ve packaged—but it could break down our resistance to other, less savory purveyors of voyeuristic content.

A cynic by nature, I trust little and question much.  My mantra while navigating the treacherous ether of cyberspace is, “If you don’t expect it, suspect it.” Somewhere in the back of my brain that simple rhyme echoes anytime I encounter an email or a link that begs me to click. In that moment of pause I find the strength to ignore, inquire, or delete.

Try it yourself and see. Repeat the line a few times and remember it whenever you feel the impulse to peek behind that URL.

If you don’t expect it, suspect it.

If you don’t expect it, suspect it.

If you don’t expect it, suspect it.

You might deny yourself a fleeting endorphin high, but you might also avoid an enduring sense of regret.

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