How Free Web Content Traps People In An Abyss Of Ads And Clickbait


If you feel like Internet ads are more pervasive and invasive than ever before, you’re not alone. Author Tim Wu tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that the Web has gotten worse over the years, not better — and unrelenting ads are to blame.

“I think you spend 50 percent of your mental energy trying to defeat ad systems,” Wu says. “It’s amazing that we’ve got this great scientific invention, the Web and the Internet, and then it has come to the point where using it reminds me of swatting mosquitoes.”

Wu points out that much of the “free” content on the Internet comes at a price to users, who are subjected to ads that are targeted specifically at them and which are increasingly difficult to ignore or close. “Google, Facebook, Twitter — the whole set of companies essentially knows all your weaknesses and essentially how to manipulate you in subtle ways in order to have you do things you might not otherwise do,” he says.

Wu says that although the Internet is full of “clickbait that brings ads along like a bad cold,” it doesn’t have to be that way. “We can have a better Web,” he says. “Whether it’s a combination of subscription models or nonprofit models, I would like to have a Web that we feel proud of, that lives up to its promise.”

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