Every Thursday in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.
I clicked on Gawker’s Condé Nast story before I had any idea it would be the big deal that it was. A friend had shared it on Facebook, the sort of friend who shares a lot of celebrity gossip like that. I clicked because it was there, without really thinking about it. If it was worth sharing, it was probably worth reading. (Right? That’s how it works, right?)
By the time I clicked it was already gone.
The original headline (“Condé Nast’s CFO Tried To Pay $2,500 for a Night With a Gay Porn Star”) had simply changed to “This post has been removed.” The copy had been replaced with two short sentences informing the reader that the post was no longer there and that this was the first time that they had removed an article “for any reason other than factual error or legal settlement” (a milestone of sorts, I suppose).
At the time I didn’t think too much of it. It didn’t seem all that different from a thousand other articles I had glanced over at Gawker, and I was pretty sure I could get through my day without reading yet another lurid tale of a stranger’s sex life (y’know, probably). It was only after dozens of other media outlets began to report on the story’s removal that I realized what a big deal this was — was this the end of Gawker as we knew it?
(How would we go on?)By putting the power to publish in the hands of The People, we would usher in a new era where everyone was empowered and informed. Instead, though, it turns out we just do what we’ve always done — trade celebrity rumors and conspiracy theories, while the rich continue to get rich off of it.
For more than a decade now, Gawker has been that site that wouldn’t just report on celebrity sex tapes, they would embed the sex tape right there, in the article — in other words, they were the site that would “go there,” whether going there was advisable or not. And most of the Internet has seemed pretty okay with this, treating Gawker like a relatively mainstream site, like the Internet’s crazy uncle who always gets drunk and cracks filthy jokes but still gets invited to Thanksgiving every year. But it looks like that’s changing. (Maybe only because fewer people want to see Hulk Hogan than Kim Kardashian naked, but hey, progress is progress, right? Maybe?)
Frankly, the mainstream has taken Gawker way too seriously as a media outlet for way too long, mistaking a youthful editorial voice and the “correct” political views for relevance, when in reality Gawker has long been nothing more than a glorified supermarket tabloid, sucking the life out of celebrities, and others, for profit. Gawker’s official policy has long been “If it’s true, you publish,” but does Gawker’s pile of lurid truths actually get anyone any closer to Truth?
What was, after all, the supposed promise of the Internet, back in its wild-west days — back when “instant information at your fingertips” was a novelty rather than an ever-present, crushing burden. By putting the power to publish in the hands of The People, we would usher in a new era where everyone was empowered and informed. Instead, though, it turns out we just do what we’ve always done — trade celebrity rumors and conspiracy theories, while the rich continue to get rich off of it.
Because if this narrative from former editor Tommy Craggs, who quit over the incident, is to be believed, the decision was entirely a commercial one. Advertisers were threatening to drop Gawker over the story, so they pulled it. That’s the way it works: you can’t be a bunch of Young Turks looking to upset the System while simultaneously expecting said System to funnel revenue your way. I mean, I guess you gotta keep the lights on while you fight for truth, but are the sex lives of C-list celebrities really a truth worth fighting for?
And ultimately, this is what Gawker represents: the broken promise of the early Internet. Piles of information, but very little Truth to be gleaned from it. A glorified tabloid operated by those who fancy themselves speakers of truth to power, but few of them with meaningful Truth to speak, and all of them beholden, in the end, to the very Powers they hate.