Outrage for Profit (and the race to your brainstem)


Outrage For Profit

I’ve been spending some time on Craigslist lately. A guy ran a red light and t-boned my mom. She’s fine but her car was totaled. So I found her a used car on Craigslist. I also recently sold my boat to a man who lives four hours away from me in Pasco, Washington, and I used Craigslist to do it. I’m guessing you’ve used Craigslist a time or two too. Craig Newmark is the “Craig” in Craigslist. He’s the founder. And he knows a thing or two about how the internet works and about media in general. In a recent interview he made this statement:

“I’m guessing that the purpose of many Twitter wars is to polarize people and, in fact, we’ve seen that happen because you can often trace some of the fighting groups to the same location. Most of the outrage I’ve seen in the online world – I would guess 80% – someone’s faking it for profit.”

After reading Craig Newmark’s remarks I did a little research. One of the best articles I found was this 17 minute read: This is how your fear and outrage are being sold for profitby Tobias Rose-Stockwell. I hope you’ll read it for yourself.

It turns out moral outrage is big business. In a moment of candor, I heard one talking head say there are political show hosts out there who don’t even believe half of what they say. The truth isn’t the top priority for them or for the companies they work for. According to Google design ethicist Tristan Harris everybody out there is in “a race to the bottom of the brain stem.”

So the top priority isn’t the truth.

The top priority is to trigger your base emotions.

In other words the top priority is to say something that will evoke outrage or fear in you or in me because that’s the cheapest most effective way to get your attention. And those who are best at it are those who make the most money. Those who win the race to the bottom of your brain stem get the most advertisers and subscriptions. We’re talking about billions of dollars. On the internet, on the radio, on TV, there are wolves fleecing sheep for profit this way.

I implore you, don’t be one of those sheep. Because when we’re sucked into expressing our moral outrage, our big opinions get in the way of loving like Jesus. We become known for what we’re against instead of being known for what Jesus said his disciples would be known for: their love.

Bob Goff expressed it perfectly in the last post I shared. (see How to tell if you’re growing as a Jesus follower.) We Jesus followers can know we’re following Jesus well when our love dwarfs our opinions.

If we desire to follow Christ in the way he wants us to, we must ask ourselves, “What am I known for?”

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:35



Cohen Coberly, Craigslist founder: ‘Most’ online outrage is faked for profit, Techspot, July 15, 2019

David Smith interview with Craig Newmark, Craigslist’s Craig Newmark: ‘Outrage is profitable. Most online outrage is faked for profit’The Guardian, July 14, 2019

Tobias Rose-Stockwell, This is how your fear and outrage are being sold for profit, Medium Media, July 14, 2017

Ruth Tam, Wrath of the talking heads: How the ‘Outrage Industry’ affects politics, PBS, February 28, 2014

3 Comments on “Outrage for Profit (and the race to your brainstem)

  1. This is powerful and speaks to me. I try so hard to not fall into the moral outrage trap, but I often fail. I fear, which is probably not the way for a Christian to start a sentence, that if I’m silent people will assume I accept and maybe even support the view of America’s secular-Christianity vocal majority.

    • I do the same thing sometimes! I’m always struggling to be known for what Jesus says we’re to be known for. Best case people see the love of Jesus in my heart and I actually do things to help, as Jesus talks about in Matthew 25. Worst case: my opinions get in the way. I need to do better.

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