A blogger should be honest with her readers, so I guess I should confess: I am a regular Daily Mail reader.
The Mail is a British tabloid whose politics lean so far right it’s a wonder it has any left-hand pages at all. Its Femail and entertainment sections regularly report breathlessly on which actresses have gained a few ounces, neglected to shave their underarms for a day, or failed to lose their pregnancy weight within three months. Its health coverage is so sensationalistic, there’s a Facebook group titled The Daily Mail List of “Things That Give You Cancer” that has nearly 47,000 members. In short, it’s everything that I loathe in the media.
None of which stops me from logging on to its website every evening.
Oh, I’d never actually pay for the paper. When I lived in England I bought the Guardian or the Mirror, like the good liberal I am. I rationalized that as long as I’m not fiscally supporting the Mail, it was okay for me to read it. True, I’m helping to boost its online traffic, which in turn enables it to woo web advertisers, which I haven’t found a way to rationalize yet, but I’m working on it.
The closest I’ve gotten is to declare that I’ll never buy from a company that advertises on its website, but in this day of ad networks and retargeting banners, that’s pretty much impossible. But it does raise a point: Website visitors that we believe to be faithful followers and advocates may well be faithful haters instead.
By my online behavior—the fact that I click through to the Mail and numerous of its stories at least once a day, that I tend to comment on an article at least once a week (I defy anyone with more than two brain cells to rub together not to write a scathing comment in response to Liz Jones’s self-righteousness on occasion)—it would be easy to assume that I would also be sympathetic to other right-way publications and whatever products such sympathizers tend to buy (“Keep England White” T-shirts, perhaps?). Perhaps that’s why on Facebook I’m often served ads for Newsmax, the U.S. media company for those who think the Mail too soft on immigration.
But just as what people say they do is often quite different from what they actually do, which is why self-reported surveys can be so misleading (the old “I only watch an hour of TV once a day, and even then it’s only PBS documentaries” canard), what people do is often quite different from what they believe.
Another personal example would be my subscription to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop enewsletter. As part of her efforts to become a lifestyle guru—oops, I mean, her efforts to make the world a better place and help us lesser mortals become as fabulous as she is—Paltrow several years ago launched a weekly newsletter filled with her favorite recipes, travel tips, shops, detox regimens, and the like. Which would be swell if she had a clue as to how most normal folks (read: people who have not won an Oscar, do not call Steven Spielberg “Uncle Morty,” and are not married to millionaire musicians) actually live. Unlike Paltrow, most normal folks do not consider a recipe that requires agave nectar, asparagus, and toasted nori seaweed an affordable, easy-to-whip-up lunch for their kids to take to school.
I look forward to seeing Goop in my inbox every week not because I eagerly await Paltrow’s advice but because Gwyneth’s tone-deaf but oh-so-earnest attempts to relate to us normal folks warms the mocking cockles of my usually frozen heart. (Every Goop reminds me of a friend’s comment upon watching Brooke Shields in a guest stint on Friends ages ago: “She’s acting her little heart out.”) And from the mocking of Goop I’ve read on multiple other sites, I’m not the only one who reads Goop for reasons Gwyneth didn’t anticipate.
My point: Actions may speak louder than words, but we shouldn’t be judged, or marketed to, solely on the basis of our web behavior or even our purchasing behavior. (Someone who buys a baby blanket from Pottery Barn Kids isn’t necessarily someone who should regularly receive its catalogs; the purchase may have been an obligatory, one-off gift by a baby-loathing relative.)
So don’t serve me ads for NRA membership or the American Spectator solely because I read the Mail. And please don’t judge me for reading Mail. I feel dirty enough after each visit to the website as it is.