Sponsored content takes over local media website

Full of fake news! Click to see the reassembled full page, scaled down for your bandwidth’s pleasure.

Got an email yesterday from Google, saying it was time to renew my Google Adsense account. I took Google ads off my page so long ago that I forgot all about them. Fortunately, my blog is a labor of love and expenses run around $20/month. It’s not exactly a high-volume website like the websites of the local media.

I looked up a story today on the website of WRAL, a local television station. It was a story on a robbery and was a bit short on facts. Looking for more information, I began scrolling the page.

And scrolling … and scrolling … and scrolling.

The page went on and on, but it wasn’t more news stories; it was that dreaded garbage known as “sponsored content.” These are paid advertisements that masquerade as news stories, often using lurid, click-baiting headlines. Intermixed with these tabloid-esque stories were occasional links to WRAL’s content.

I got so outraged at the dreck WRAL was serving up to me that I spent over an hour just capturing screenshots of the page and reassembling these shots into the original page. I had to do this because the page was far too lengthy to fit onto one browser screen, crazy as it might sound. So that’s what you see above.
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The peddlers of fear and outrage

Trash your TV

Two things took place during my hospital visits with my Dad this week. One was becoming captivated with an unlikely Trump voter. The other was gaining some insight into how he got that way.

I visited my Dad when the nightly news was on. Our local ABC affiliate, WTVD, was ticking through its top stories from around the country. Dad soon changed the channel and offhandedly stated his reasoning.

It was all about crime. Robberies, murders, carjackings, shootings. For some reason, our local affiliate thought it important to alarm us with news of misfortunes that took place hundreds, or in some cases, thousands of miles away, far from any possibility of them affecting us.

Why was the news doing this? Was it just laziness, being that chasing a cop or an ambulance is an easy way to a story? If there was airtime to fill, why weren’t there more local stories to fill it? Why fill viewers’ heads with stories that have no practical value?

Unless the point is to … stoke fear?

I’d been thinking lately that many Trump voters seem to be under some sort of spell. That’s one way I can account for the cognitive dissonance. Why do these folks seem so fearful all the time, thinking the boogeyman is at their door?

The answer was staring me in the face. It’s the television coverage.
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The working-class votes that got away

I was in the hospital today for my dad’s lung surgery where I rode the elevator with a guy wearing a Trump hat. He was elderly and skinny as a rail, probably weighing not much more than a hundred pounds, and wore coveralls that swallowed him up. In his hand was a beat-up canvas bag holding the oxygen tank that fed the tube on his face. The guy looked like he didn’t have two nickels to rub together, like he’d had a hard life working hard somewhere – maybe as a farmer.

After he stepped off the elevator I couldn’t help but wonder what would make a guy like this, seemingly a proud working man, think that he had more in common with a thieving con artist like Trump than with anyone the Democratic Party had offered up.

If ever there was a sign of just how broken the Democratic Party is, this was it.

Is Silicon Valley done?

The headline is bombastic, of course, but there is a grain of truth to the idea that Silicon Valley is imploding. By this I don’t mean that business there is dying out; on the contrary business there is booming. The issue is these companies are victims of their own success, boosting Valley wealth so high that they’re pricing themselves out of their own backyards.

Apple is rumored to be inking a real-estate deal in Cary. San Francisco-based Slack is opening a Denver office. Word from folks I know who are working in Bay-area companies tell me there is a push for these companies to expand in other cities because the talent competition on their home turf is intense. I keep reading stories about people escaping from Silicon Valley and these stories seem to keep coming.

Amazon may be Seattle-based but it’s in the same boat with its search for a secondary headquarters. The ever-rising prices in Seattle have made it more attractive for Amazon to invest away from its birthplace.

Of course, it could all be a blip, or nothing at all, but lately there seem to be lots of reasons why not being in the Valley is a competitive advantage.

Young Women Are Convinced Motherhood Is Going To Suck — And They’re Right

Some of the child-free women I know have shared this article. Personally, I don’t get it. The way I see it, jobs are a dime a dozen. Building a company, building a career might seem important, but building a human being? Building a human being? There is nothing more important, challenging, fulfilling, frustrating, or valuable than that.

When I was 7 months pregnant, my mother told me her biggest regret in life: that she had been a working mom. “If I had to do it all over again, I would have stayed home with you and your sister from the get-go,” she said.

I was surprised by this admission, to say the least. Sure, when I was a kid, my mom would sometimes complain about missing a field trip or a PTA meeting, but to be honest, she complained about most things, so it didn’t seem like her job ranked super high on the list. Growing up in New York City in the ‘90s, I’d watched the rest of my friends’ moms slowly drop out of the full-time work force, taking lower-paid part-time administrative positions or scheduling their days around manicures and aerobics classes and harshly worded sit-downs with the nanny. But my mom had kept on working, rising through the ranks to become a corporate executive before retiring a few years ago. I had always been proud of my mother for having (it seemed) seamlessly integrated her career with motherhood. It never occurred to me that she didn’t feel the same way.

Source: Young Women Are Convinced Motherhood Is Going To Suck — And They’re Right

Political frustrations

I have been wondering more and more about my obsession with politics. Like many obsessions, it borders on unhealthy. Often its frustrating, particularly to watch progress get thwarted come the next election.

I was feeling this way about the recent Democratic primary for the Wake County Commissioners. I’ve felt the incumbents on the ballot, Sig Hutchinson, John Burns, Erv Portman, and Matt Calabria, have done a fine job guiding the county but several fellow Democrats had a differing opinion. Portman and Burns were sent home Tuesday in favor of former school board member Susan Evans and newcomer Vickie Adamson. Hutchinson and Calabria retained their seats.
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Facebook caught spying on conversations again

I was in need of wheelbarrows for a company project two weeks ago, so I pulled up the webpage for the Lowe’s hardware store on my work computer and perused their offerings. A day later, just like magic, Facebook presented me with a Facebook ad from Lowe’s featuring the same brand of wheelbarrows I looked at! The social media company made the connection between my work computer and my personal phone, even though I was not logged into Facebook on my work computer when I made the search. Apparently I had left some Facebook cookies behind on my work computer and Lowe’s webpage uses Facebook integrations to read those cookies.

Lowe’s wheelbarrow ad on Facebook

Creepy? Perhaps for some, but at least I can understand how this magic was done. I might not necessarily like Lowe’s sharing my searches with Facebook but I understand how and why it happened. I chalk this up to good, clean, targeted advertising. It’s fair game.

But there’s apparently another, more nefarious kind of targeted advertising done by Facebook, whether or not they care to admit it. A friend had lunch with a colleague yesterday and they were waiting for their meals when his colleague casually mentioned that his car was in need of a new ignition coil. Upon returning to his office, my friend checked Facebook and was astounded to find a Facebook ad for an ignition coil!

What are the odds of this happening by chance? I mean, I know that a recent story on this by Digg has pointed to the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon as a possible explanation. This theory might apply to more common phrases or objects, like cat food, but ignition coils? How often does anyone ever utter the words “ignition coil” in their lifetime? Saying I hear it maybe once every ten years would be generous. It’s pretty damn uncommon phrase.

An ignition coil ad, surely just a coincidence


My friend insists that he never searched for ignition coils, typed it in, or did anything active that would’ve drawn the ad to him. He also was not on any WiFi networks at the restaurant and had no other overt ties to his colleague and their conversation. While it may be possible his colleague Googled it at the restaurant my friend doesn’t think so, and certainly he didn’t use my friend’s phone to do it. The odds against this being coincidence are simply staggering.

I’ve seen the video of the couple who talked about dog food and summoned dog food ads to their Facebook page. That’s interesting to be sure, but I don’t know these people the way I know my friend. I can certainly vouch for my friend’s honesty.

The Facebook app has been banned from my phone since I caught it using the photos on my phone that I didn’t share to send me ads. That was too creepy for me, but it appears that listening in on what people say now feeds the social media giant’s insatiable appetite to know everything about you.

Are you frightened yet?