Just Don’t Look

It can be tough to condemn things nowadays. While it’s important to criticize when called for, sometimes the attention that follows is greater than it would have been otherwise. People may think something is bad because of criticism, but it was because of the criticism that they took note of it in the first place. Calling something out gives it a certain status, when otherwise it may have disappeared or been far less impactful. It’s like playing a game where the object is to not think about an elephant. Without the framing you win, but as soon as you tell someone not to think about an elephant they’re thinking about it. It seems Republicans campaigning against Obamacare have found this out the hard way. A Brookings Institution researcher gives us some data:

His analysis, which he detailed in a blog post, compared states’ per-capita ad spending with their enrollment rates, and found that it was often the case that the more money spent on anti-ACA ads, the more Americans signed up for coverage—a trend made more impressive by the fact that, in the run-up to this fall’s midterm elections, the advertising budget of the ACA’s opponents was about 15 times the size of that of the law’s supporters.


“The first one is that with the negative ads, citizens’ awareness about this subsidized service increases, and the more ads they see, the more they know that such a service exists. … The other theory is that citizens who were exposed to an overwhelming number of ads about Obamacare are more likely to believe that this service is going to be repealed by the Congress in the near future … [so] he or she will have a higher willingness to go and take advantage of this one-time opportunity before it goes away.”

This connects with some of the problems I was discussing yesterday with new media models. Most sites sell ads based on visitors, so merely by looking at the site you’re contributing, even if you’re looking at to write about how it’s problematic. Publishing a post critical of those sites also gives them more attention. It’s a catch-22 that’s tough to resolve.

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