IF you ever want to feel worse about humanity, find an article on Facebook and scroll through the comments below it.

Be sure to hold your nose before diving in. The article itself could be on the most innocuous subject, but even under “Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson seen holding hands outside 7-11” you’re only ever six replies away from “Bill Gates is injecting us with Hillary Clinton’s blood because of Jews”.

With more controversial topics, the volume and intensity of those weird replies increases significantly.

While those posting hate-filled comments must take responsibility for their behaviour, the websites themselves frequently encourage it.

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Publicly, they’ll say all the right things about how there’s “no room for prejudice”, but the tone and content of their articles suggests otherwise.

Most of us are familiar with the concept of clickbait, wherein enticing headlines make promises that the stories can’t keep.

Sometimes the intent of clickbait is merely cynical, as with football headlines promising “Celtic ace addresses Arsenal speculation” followed by a piece explaining “the Celtic star told reporters he had no comment to make on the Arsenal rumours”.

No-one leaves that story any the wiser, but the website banks all those juicy Celtic and Arsenal clicks without technically having misled you.

That behaviour is pretty dispiriting and no-one’s idea of good journalism, but it’s considerably easier to defend than what happens when a celebrity dies.

With thousands googling the celebrity’s name, some outlets will quickly fire up a story about their net worth or some sordid stories from their personal life. They bait you with the promise of salacious details about someone who’s been dead a matter of hours.

The smart ones will avoid tweeting the story out, allowing them to soak up that Google Search traffic without facing the backlash their ghoulish tweet would receive. There were no such concerns for the Daily Express in July 2019, when esteemed actor Rutger Hauer’s death prompted them to write a story about his finances and post it on Twitter with the caption: “Rutger Hauer has died. How much money did the Blade Runner star have? #RutgerHauer #BladeRunner #ShamelessExploitationOfRespectedPersonsDeath”.

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One of those hashtags might have been made up, but it’s no less appropriate than the other two.

I don’t know about you, but when I heard that the man who delivered the iconic “tears in rain” monologue had passed away, my first thought wasn’t “I HAVE to know what this guy’s net worth was”.

If clickbait wasn’t grim enough, some outlets have branched out into engagement-bait.

Any website publishing stories on Facebook is bound by the social network’s algorithm and subject to the whims of almost-human metaverse-lurker Mark Zuckerberg. That algorithm can make or break a website, and it loves a flurry of raging replies.

The angrier you are, the more likely you are to leave a comment and, therefore, the longer you spend on Facebook. That means stories are engineered not just to attract clicks, but to generate comments below. That’s why we’re bombarded with negative stories about Sam Smith and Meghan Markle. They’re catnip for “I identify as a helicopter, laughing emoji” transphobes and “there’s just something about her I don’t like” racists. These articles provoke a reaction from the sort of person who saw Kanye endorse Donald Trump and suddenly had to pretend they’d been a fan since The College Dropout.

On Saturday, the Daily Mail posted an article on Facebook with the headline “Sam Smith fan devastated after singer’s friends tell her to shut the f*** up’.”

On Facebook, they added “she was just trying to say hi!”.

Needless to say, the truth was more nuanced (person goes about business, has personal space invaded and friend intervenes), but emotive language like “devastated” and “she was just” deliberately paints them in a bad light and serves as a flame for Facebook’s ugliest moths.

Articles like these are actively stoking transphobia. The writer can dump it on Facebook, minimise their window and log off without ever giving it a second thought, but there are very real consequences.

If you’re a non-binary person feeling hesitant about coming out, how will you feel when you read people deliberately misgendering Smith and saying “he is disgusting”, “the bloke is such a talented singer but his agenda has ruined his career” or ‘he, she, it, they or whatever it calls himself these days needs to do one”?

The people who typed those words have no excuse, but their insults are a direct result of a non-story being written and promoted with a view to generating outrage.

Don’t engage. If you want to shame the outlet, take a screenshot and post it on your own feed rather than interacting with theirs. If nothing else, the woman with 61 Facebook friends who said

of 30-million-record-selling Sam Smith “Star? That’s a laugh” might reflect on her actions.

If everyone stopped engaging with these bad-faith articles, those outlets who exploit tragedy and prejudice in the name of clicks and engagements would be forced to rethink their approach.

And all those ignorant comments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.