Let's face it - the Internet is a very angry place. From the vitriol present in pretty much any average YouTube comment thread to the concerted harassment campaign directed at former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao, rage and indignation seem to be two of the default emotions online, and negativity seems to be a fact of life. It's thus tempting as a content creator to tap into these emotions - to use the frustration that's certainly boiling just below the surface of so many Internet users to drive traffic.
I've touched on this topic a bit in the past - about how alienating your audience is the worst thing you can do, or how content that goes viral for the wrong reasons can actually damage your reputation in the long run. Just look at what happened with Alyssa Bereznak, who wrote an inflammatory article about her date with a Magic: The Gathering champion. Sure, it got tons of traffic for the sites where it was posted, but Bereznak also took a huge hit in terms of reputation.
She hasn't, for example, written another piece for Gizmodo since her OKCupid post. Not only that, news of the story was picked up by the likes of Forbes and The Washington Post - she'll be forever remembered as "The Gizmodo Mean Girl." The lesson, I hope, is clear: controversy and negativity might get you short-term bursts of traffic, but in the long run, it's just going to alienate your audience.
"Controversy gets attention, there's no doubt about it," writes Blogging Wizard's Sarah Arrow. "It fires up a conversation on a normally quiet topic and generates conversation all over social media. Your shares go through the roof and you'll be tempted to write a controversial post again."
"Wen you create a controversial post, you'll also increase your unsubscribe rate and the number of negative email responses from your readers," she continues. "You don't want to be known as "that controversial blogger" by only writing that style of post. It will be hard to monetize a site like this, and the novelty will wear off quickly."
Sure, there are people who make a living on that sort of thing. Maddox. Katie Hopkins. Matt Walsh. David Thorne.
But they're few and far between. Most of the people who abuse their audience, focus solely on negative topics, or do something else to alienate their readers are lost in the annals of the Internet, relegated to the same level of obscurity as a YouTube comment.
I'm not saying you can't occasionally post a negative article or flirt with controversy. You should do so - variety is the spice of life, and all that. Just don't make that the only thing you do, and be careful you don't end up known as someone who never has anything cheerful to say.