How Content Farms Preyed on America's Powerball Dreams

How Content Farms Preyed on America's Powerball Dreams

You were never going to win Powerball, but you might win Powerball.
January 15, 2016, 8:08pm

This year's $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot was a world record, which meant it was a world record pipe dreaming moment for Americans. Content farms had to be there to create content that fueled these pipe dreams, but also let people know that they weren't going to win [via 'informing them']. For people who mainly read entertainment and viral trending news on their daily content binge, #Powerballmania was a chance for them to dive into the world of statistics, mathematics and maybe sorta science.

This realm of statistical content is a break from content based on anonymous sources, unfulfilling clickbait, beef imagineering, and net-zeitgeist pandering. It's based in something closer to fact: numbers.

Powerball is a consolidated version of state lotteries that allows the American middle class to believe that they are special enough to escape from the grind of the traditional workday and the traditional workplace. One day, YOU will be able to purchase the opportunity to win the fortune that you deserve for toiling away from day to day and being a great person to all of the bad people in the world. Your accrued karma will be rewarded in the form of a lucky ticket that ensures that you are in fact more special than anyone else because you had the opportunity to win an impossible contest against all odds.

Along the way, content farms were there to empower the office naysayer, who doesn't want to believe in the magic of Powerball. The negative-nancy watercooler contributor who wants you to know that the day after the drawing, you will be back at work. He has read thinkpieces, studied infographics, and even toggled probability meters provided by content farms that illustrate how impossible it would be for anyone to win Powerball. Save your money, and contribute it to your Roth IRA. You are not going to win this thing--the odds are so low. The only thing that's free in life is internet content.

As we've learned, content farms are not necessarily valid news sources, but instead they exist to supplement trends. They are not delivering real information for the sake of empowering independent thinkers or strengthening communities. They aren't turning you from a consumer to a prosumer to a master of everything. Instead, they create the narrative of connectivity to those interested in large-scale events, providing a common bond. Whether it's an international movie franchise, a sporting event, a celebrity, or a lottery, the content farm's job is to provide omnidirectional content for the wandering mind.

This means the content farm's job was to fuel the dreams of those who thought they could win. It played both sides of the odds, empowering those who thought winning Powerball could be impossible, and those who were waiting with a ticket in hand to drive to their state's lottery commission offices to claim their prize.

For instance, one of the popular stories attached to Powerball-mania was a recommendation piece for 'what to do if you won the lottery.' Despite telling you that your odds of winning the lottery were smaller than being struck by lighting, the local content farm still wants to fuel your dreams in the form of shareable content. If you were to win, there's a right way to do it. Get an attorney, an accountant, a financial advisor, a life coach, and make sure you don't share the news to Facebook. There is a tax burden. Did you know that you won't win the entire amount because of state and federal taxes? Mark Cuban of the hit television program Shark Tank has more advice for you if you'd like to know what a billionaire thinks of #powerballmania.

There is an informed way to win a lottery jackpot. You can be more than just a lottery player, showing up at your gas station to buy a quickpick auto-populated ticket. In fact, you are less likely to win by playing quickpick. But also, the lottery may or may not be rigged, but if you do by a ticket, your chances of winning are vastly increased nonetheless. Be prepared if you win, though, because you might be that one Middle American who lost it all after winning the lottery, like ten others featured in a slideshow of horror stories.

I'm going to miss Powerballmania. All of my accrued lottery knowledge will go out the window when the jackpot returns to normal levels. Even though the lottery is a daily gambling opportunity in most states, I won't have the dedicated statistical coverage to supplement my weekly lottery habit. Content farms won't be there to empower me because the national interest in the story has waned, therefore there is no more free advice available in my news stream.

Statistics could be romanticized as the perfect content. They appear to be valid enough to add validity to your big box content farm. You can display them in very interesting, informative-seeming ways. They give the common man 'real numbers' to use in their arguments against those with only reasoned thought and ideas. They allow you to 'project' the future, which is probably more valid than some blogger using their zeitgeist-prediction skills to foretell the future. Data driven decisions help us to feel more in control of what we don't want to be random.

Leading up to the 2016 Presidential election, content farms need to get their statistical content ready for consumption by wide audiences. People want to be able to predict the future, and statistics are their gateway tool. Interactivity, toggling, and dynamic information are an important experience in the current content farm era because the user is engaged with the site, extracting their own information from the data well. This is why statistical content production engineers like Nate Silver and his vanity content farm FiveThirtyEight are important. When an election, a massive powerball jackpot, March Madness, or a military draft occurs, the internet needs a definitive expert to let the common man know their odds.

But what will always be more sharable than statistics? Feel-good, positive content that lets us know that the American Dream still lives on, even if the same content farm let us know that our American Dream of winning Powerball was basically impossible. Who cares about numbers? When we see a family of average joes claiming they won the Powerball after an appearance on the TODAY show, none of that matters. That could be us one day. That could be me.

Powerball mania was a bountiful harvest for the content farm, reaching the widest possible audiences even beyond the most generic, Facebook-share-fueled content farm. Even if statistical content saw it's prime moment during the past few weeks, the magic of happy endings has a much longer lifespan and audience going forward.

Life on the Content Farm is a weekly column about internet media written by the last relevant blogger.