Misery Porn as Clickbait

The craziest damn thing has started happening to the stuff I write about Venezuela abroad...people are clicking on it.

So obviously I’ve been writing a lot for international media in the last few weeks: the moment seemed right to try to catch people who maybe read one or two Venezuela articles a year on what’s been going on.

The strangest thing has happened, though. People are clicking. Big time.

Take my Vox.com piece. It spent two days ranking first, second or third spot on the Vox site. And it was up against a new Game of Thrones post, and several Trump pieces. Tens of thousands of people shared it in Facebook. Now five days old, it’s still in the Top 20.

Something similar happened to that Atlantic piece I did with Moisés Naím. Clicks. Lots of clicks. Crazy.

I’d love to flatter myself that there’s something special I’m doing as a writer to get all these clicks. But let’s get real: it’s just the magnetic allure of misery porn driving these stats. People really can’t resist.


It’s an important realization, because hard though it is for us to wrap our heads around it, now is the moment when international public opinion is finally getting the memo about what’s been happening to our country.

By “international public opinion” I don’t mean people abroad in general. I mean that relatively small segment of people well enough educated and curious enough to form an opinion about things that happen in other countries. People who actively seek out international news, who listen to the BBC World Service or buy the quality paper where they live and don’t just skip the international pages. That’s never going to be a mass audience, 5% of the population? 10%? I have no idea.

For our purposes, the important thing is that they’re by far the most influential 5%-10%: active, engaged, opinion-forming, and often broadly left-leaning and susceptible to chavista framing. Those are the people we’d had a hell of a time reaching. Those are the people now grasping what’s been happening in Venezuela.

It’s maddening, we’ve seen it so clearly for such a long time. But the world is a big place, the share of international attention Venezuela commands is a tiny sliver, and so the Conventional Wisdom about us moves with a considerable lag to events.

It’s taken a lot – way too much to get to this point. But we’re here.