For a person with limited self-control, I resign to the fact that I will ultimately fail at New Year’s resolutions and fail promptly. Yet I still carry the tradition. This year on January 1, in the midst of hangover-dismay, I made the following idealistic declarations; I would never, ever again eat chocolate. This lasted just over one day. Secondly, I would learn to sit up straight. I relented after an hour of back pain and boredom. Finally I would boycott the gossip section of The Mail Online.
Rather incredibly, I managed to struggle through a whole seven days of aching desperation which came to a head when I had to find out if Beyoncé had given birth. She did and I exhaled with relief.
Upon calculation, I approximate that more than two hours of my day are spent trawling through celebrity gossip sites. Sometimes I just stare at The Mail Online homepage, occasionally pressing refresh knowing that it will not have changed.
And I’m not the only one. The Mail Online holds the title of second largest English speaking website in the world. It is first in its field in the UK. It records almost four million visitors daily, which means there are endless victims suffering the same inescapable plight.
This is achieved through various manipulative but nonetheless brilliant strategies. In the comment section people often remark that these sites are riddled with spelling, grammar and factual inaccuracies. But this is just part of a cunning façade which eclipses the intelligence. When readers are able to correct these errors, they are satisfied with a feeling of intellectual superiority which compels them to return and revisit that pleasure. Most humans can’t resist even the slightest taste of one-upmanship.
In addition, The Mail Online employs search engine optimisation specialists whose computing capabilities border on forensic. They analyse Google trends and adapt keywords to heighten the site’s online presence. They also cleverly tweak the layout of stories to resonate with us psychologically in terms of pop-cultural issues that are trending in that moment.
However, this is a widely used tactic among all high-profile websites. So as well as driving traffic to the page, they must also trap it and compel it to return. When asking friends and family members about their attraction to The Mail Online, they seemed compelled by the strong informative headlines but most importantly by the large glossy pictures of celebrities in either very glamorous clothes or in very little clothes.
But our hypnotic gravitation towards gossip sites bleeds deeper than a superficial attraction to big vibrant pictures. It is an inherent human urge to gossip; it is part escapism and part fantasy of living vicariously through those who seem to have it all and have it very easy. Whether it is an insecurity motivated by jealousy or a dose of schadenfreude, something makes us nosy about the private lives of others.
Yet this all seems too simple. I’m informed of the tactics; both subliminal and visible. I understand the science of tagging and search engine optimisation and I am aware of the allure behind those scandalous photos. Nevertheless, I am still addicted to these sites. Evidently the success is entangled with mystery; the inability to put your finger on that specific charm but the desperate urge to keep trying.