Upworthy Stories are Not So Great

2013-10-09 Upworthy

The left-wing slant of the web’s fastest-growing media company is definitely not hard to detect, but I’m a little surprised that Upworthy’s Wikipedia entry leads off with: “Upworthy is a left-wing website.” That first paragraph ends with: “It is dedicated to publicizing progressive narratives.” Well, OK. I don’t have to bother trying to prove that point, I guess.

Here’s what bothers me about Upworthy: they are tackling a lot of issues that should be universal with a specific partisan slant. Most of the Upworthy stories I’ve seen have been about responses to bullying. I have disagreed with them (as I’ve described), but I’ve also really appreciated that it’s a site dedicated to raising important issues and also that it goes for a positive approach rather than tearing down the opposition.

But there’s something deeply and profoundly wrong about trying to politicize everything. The story that prompted this response is about a young 11-year old kids response to bullying. The headline: This Kid Was Bullied A LOT. He Could Have Told His Teacher Or His Principal. He Had Bigger Plans.

2013-10-09 Cain Smith

So what were his “bigger plans”? What did it look like when he “he stood up and did something about it.” He gave a speech to local politicians and asked them to do something about it. 

I don’t want to attack the kid at all. Caine’s 11, and that took guts and courage. He had a concern, he wrote a little speech, and he went and gave the speech. Kudos to him. But, quite frankly, I find the idea that the big and awesome response to a problem is to call for government intervention nothing short of horrifying. I assume the headline is erroneous, but apparently this poor kid never told his teachers or his principle (the people actually responsible). Where were his moms? He just went straight to elected representatives. Asking for… what? New laws? As though we haven’t criminalized children enough, now we’re going to what… throw the bullies into juvenile detention? Give them a criminal record?

I’m just aghast that he didn’t talk to his teachers first and then maybe have his parents do something like talk to the parents of the bullies. The stereotype is that liberals want the government to solve everything, and I think this example shows just how creepy that can be. It’s like the ultimate expression of passive aggression: you’re unwilling to talk to the bullies or their parents, but you’re willing to try and get governmental intervention?

Maybe I don’t have the story right, but that opens another can of worms. Some combination of Upworthy and the videos creators decided to present this as a story where parents are almost completely absent from the picture and where asking for government intervention is always Plan A. That might not be how it really happened, but it’s the story that Upworth presented. And this is high-quality video that–apparently–was in place before the kid ever gave his speech. Who was paying for that, and how much of it was scripted, and what input did Caine really have? I don’t know if Upworthy funds their own videos or not, but it’s creepy to have a major Internet media corporation possibly involved in faking their “uplifting” stories in ways that might be detrimental to the folks involved.

I see a lot of Upworthy stories. Some of them are pretty awesome. But issues like bullying and respect for women–that is to say issues of basic human decency–ought not to be politicized. And they certainly ought not to be politicized specifically for profit. By politicizing these issues Upworthy is intentionally burning bridges with concerned conservatives, moderates, and independents for political and financial gain. Which sort of makes you question the underlying sincerity of their own ideology. What’s more important: helping people or winning political battles? Under the cheerful facade, Upworthy is a pretty sick website that will only further deepen the political-cultural divide in our country by doubling down on the narrative that in order to care about gays, women, or minorities you have to subscribe to a particular political ideology. Upworthy is subtle, but the demonization of opposing viewpoints is as pervasive as anywhere else you can imagine, and that’s pretty much the opposite of uplifting.

5 thoughts on “Upworthy Stories are Not So Great”

  1. I’m pretty sure this is just going to teach the kid the actual lesson that government isnt going to solve his ptoblems. In my experience giving speeches and feeling morally superior to your tormentors is only going to make it worse. He should just do what I eventually settled on in middle school and obsessively read enders game wishing he were that cool.

  2. I just learned this morning (this post was written yesterday), that there’s a new study out concluding that formal anti-bullying techniques may actually increase bullying. The hypothesis is that the anti-bullying message effectively trains bullies in how to be smarter bullies (including knowing how to detect and evade parent and teacher questions about bullying). Of course there’s always the causation/correlation question (maybe schools with more bullying implement anti-bullying programs), but I skimmed the original article and the authors took lots of individual-level and school-level variables into effect that should (in theory) control for some of that.

    University of Texas Austin News Release

    Journal of Criminology article

  3. I’m pretty sure this is just going to teach the kid the actual lesson that government isnt going to solve his ptoblems. I

    If the local school board can’t do something, do you think it’s more likely for him to give up on government-based solutions… or go up the ladder to the state-level reps? From a conservative viewpoint there are lots of problems that government can’t solve, but the typical liberal response seems to be “try harder!”

    My reaction to the substantial bullying I faced in middle school was to make sure I got the Hell out of that school system and did Governor’s School for high school. It’s a pretty awesome solution, but obviously it doesn’t work for everyone. As a result: I’m really not sure what the right answer is. But if you’ve got 2 parents and you haven’t even talked to the teachers or administrators then you’re not even trying. (My parents went to the principal on my behalf, but she called me a liar and said that bullies weren’t as bad as I described them. So… clearly that’s not necessarily a perfect solution. But I think you should at least start there.)

  4. Yeah, the only time id actually describe myself as having gotten “beaten up” and not just loosely bullied for being dorktastic was after I tried to switch my schedule because this one kid at Byrd kept keeping me from getting lunch. So I complained and rather than switch me they must have done something to punish the kid because he stopped messing with me at lunch and beat me up after school instead. I started walking home with Ben and Joe shortly after. Being friends with Ben was a lot like having a bully, but less menacing overall because afterwards you could play magic with the guy who beat you up.

    Mostly my point was just that I think the administration at Byrd may have been awful.

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