With every passing word, I lose you. Wave goodbye to your virtual, non-temporal neighbors who have already left. Au revoir, auf wiedersehen, adios! But for those of you who remain, let’s have a chat.
On November 2nd, The Daily Pennsylvanian published an op-ed I wrote titled, “Do you love democracy? Then vote Republican.” The title of this piece was intentionally inflammatory to Penn’s majority left-leaning audience, while still fundamentally describing my argument. But why would I intentionally piss everyone off?
Let me first be clear about one thing: the article title was not clickbait. I genuinely want everyone voting Republican — in the 2024 presidential primaries. It is this distinction which you would only get from reading through the second sentence of the op-ed — undoubtedly a daunting task but surely much easier than the effort of writing me an email (which I will always eventually respond to) or arguing in a comment thread (which I will likely never see).
The reason I titled my article accordingly is because anger spreads content faster than joy. Furthermore, I was not afraid of people voting for Republican candidates straight-ticket in the general election from merely seeing the words "vote Republican" in my title. This is because political ideology is generally considered a complex contagion which requires far more significant exposure than a DP headline.
In other words, anger brought more attention which brought more reads which in theory leads to more of the action which I prescribe (i.e. voting Republican in the 2024 primary). Indeed, at the current time of writing according to DP analytics, that article is the most viewed piece I have ever written.
To me, this phenomenon alone is horrifying — that to best share my argument and to convince more people, I must frustrate my peers. However, it is worsened still by just how implicitly trusted I am by you all, the ones who actually make it past the second sentence.
Google analytics has a statistic called a “bounce,” which represents people leaving the page without either reading another article on the website or, more importantly, checking any of the sources. For my articles, I am typically fortunate with a weighted-average bounce rate of around 35% after removing the article where I expressly left out citations (good on you for keeping me on my toes). For the DP’s top opinion coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict, though? That number jumps to over 60%, meaning nearly three out of five actual readers (not functionally illiterate commenters on social media) take opinion claims without looking at their citations.
This is striking. I and others have argued about an obligation not to spread misinformation from just reading headlines — an argument that seems even more obvious given the response to my previous work. But such high bounce rates, especially for articles with substantially more controversial content, mean the people like you and I, the ones who make it this far, perhaps need to have a new conception for what reading means entirely, especially for op-eds.
For starters, just telling people to read the article is no longer enough; they simply won’t do it. Expecting otherwise is folly. Secondly, when you actually read the article, you should at least check one source, if only to see its bias. It can be fast, a quick spot check, but reading should not just mean knowing what was said without knowing how true those statements are. Most people will not even read the article (despite potentially still making claims about it), but without doing the work, your claims will equally be standing on air.
I know doing this might seem like a lot of effort, but it is equally important to normalize answering, “I don’t know enough to have an opinion,” on an issue. You can be sympathetic without picking a side. The substantial editing and citation process required to publish articles at the DP is a key factor in the paper’s success, but by truly reading an article, you become an ambassador of the ideas the writer conveys, regardless of if you are filled with refutations or compliments or both. This is a standard we all, myself included, should strive to achieve.
I am forever grateful to those of you who read my work and the work of my colleagues — to those of you who have emailed me and with whom I have discussed ideas further. This kind of engagement spurs understanding and positive change of all kinds across the Penn community and beyond. But do not forget the statistics. Because statistically? Most people won’t even read this article at all.
SPENCER GIBBS is a College and Engineering junior studying philosophy, politics, and economics and systems engineering from Tallahassee, Fla. His email is email@example.com.