Discovering the Dark Side of the Internet

Virginia Heffernan discovers the existence of content farms and is appalled by what she reads.

These sites confound and embarrass Google by gaming its ranking system. As a business proposition, they once seemed exciting. Last year, The Economist admiringly described Associated Content and Demand Media as cleverly cynical operations that “aim to produce content at a price so low that even meager advertising revenue can support it.”

As a verbal artifact, farmed content exhibits neither style nor substance. You may faintly recognize news in some of these articles, especially gossip — but the prose is so odd as to seem extraterrestrial. “Another passenger of the vehicle has also been announced to be dead,” declares a typical sentence on Associated Content. “Like many fans of the popular ‘Jackass’ franchise, Dunn’s life and pranks meant a great amount to me.”

The insultingly vacuous and frankly bizarre prose of the content farms — it seems ripped from Wikipedia and translated from the Romanian — cheapens all online information.

Pretty prose aside, outside of her mentioning Google’s changing up of their search algorithm to weed out content farms, her essay is about four months late on the one hand and then about three years late on the other.

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