As I read a BuzzFeed posted on Facebook, I fell into the same trap as many of its other readers. The title, “19 Tattoos That Literally Everyone Got In 2014,” got me to click on the link. I did not click because of the topic. I did so because of the misuse of the word literally. I fell for it, and BuzzFeed got what it wants.
With a few hundred words of copy and many screen grabs from Instagram, the well-known media company lured us into doing what it knows we will do. With a post that likely took 30 minutes to create, it received over 12,000 likes, nearly 2,000 comments, and over 3,000 shares within 10 hours. I can’t estimate the amount of clicks and visits it received, but I’m sure it is tens of thousands.
How can such a large media company let this grammatical error pass the editor? I believe they did so purposefully. The misuse of the word literally is so common, that the Oxford English Dictionary listed the colloquial use as one of the definitions of the word.
Media companies exist by driving ad revenue. Companies advertise in publications that have large audiences. BuzzFeed doesn’t need every post to be well written, insightful, or educational. It only needs engagement and brand awareness. When pitching advertisers, it can say it gets X amount of visitors to is site each day. It averages this many shares, that many likes, numerous comments… It has an audience, and that is a major factor in earning business from companies that want to a broad reach.
Not all BuzzFeed content is bad, and much of its subpar content is still entertaining. It is not “literally” as ignorant as we many think it is. In fact, I believe that its editors are incredibly good at what they are hired to do.
As Oscar Wilde wrote, “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”