For-profit

Upworthy/Cloud Tiger Media

Type:

Left-Wing Media Company

Upworthy (legal name Cloud Tiger Media) is a left-of-center news aggregation site. Founded by left-of-center activists Eli Pariser and Peter Koechley, Upworthy attempts to manipulate “emotional data” in order to influence readers’ “decision making” on social issues. [1] In 2017, Upworthy merged with GOOD Worldwide, another left-of-center media company that seeks to create activists. [2]

Upworthy has been at the center of misleading content controversies. Upworthy became known for its often-misleading headlines which sought to grab reader attention by exaggerating and appearing to misrepresent article contents. [3] Left-of-center news organizations and academics have claimed that Upworthy opened the “Pandora’s box” of fake news with its sensationalized headlines. [4] Upworthy’s content has been called “cloying,” “pandering,” and some of the “most widely mocked and reviled” content on the internet by the left-of-center New York Magazine. [5]

Upworthy was founded with venture funding from former Facebook founder and left-of-center activist Chris Hughes. [6] The news organization has also been criticized for its apparent connection to left-of-center labor unions, especially the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). The AFL-CIO paid Upworthy $804,000 between 2013 and 2014 for “consulting on public education of labor movement,” and the SEIU paid $14,500 to the company. That year, Upworthy provided favorable coverage of union protests. [7]

History

Cloud Tiger Media was founded in 2012 and began doing business as Upworthy. Upworthy was Cloud Tiger Media’s only project. [8] [9] Upworthy originally saw a meteoric rise, and by 2013, it was called the fastest-growing media site of all time. [10] Upworthy was founded with an “explicit social purpose,” beginning its time online by posting just a mission statement and links to content relating to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. [11]

From its beginning, Upworthy was explicitly left-of-center. On the site’s original “about” page, the site claimed to be “pro-gay marriage” and “anti-child-poverty,” along with claiming that “media is horrible to women” and “climate change is real.” Politico argued that Upworthy creates “news aggregation with a point of view that is decidedly progressive and left-wing” and works by “couching” its left-progressive views in emotional content to motivate young voters to join left-of-center causes, including those not normally interested in politics. [12]

Upworthy became known for its “click-bait” headlines, which encouraged readers to jump into stories with heartfelt headlines while concealing the true meaning of the articles that followed. The style even became known as the “Upworthy headline,” with other news organizations following suit. [13] Upworthy claimed to be capitalizing on “emotional data,” relying on manipulating people’s emotions in order to influence their “decision making” on social issues. [14] In November 2013, Facebook changed its algorithm to disincentivize such headlines, dropping Upworthy’s unique monthly hits from 87 million to 20 million by November 2014. [15]

In 2017, Upworthy merged with GOOD Worldwide, a left-of-center media company which works to promote left-of-center social issue campaigns. GOOD brands itself as an activist company, claiming to “activate” people in support of left-of-center issue campaigns by sharing uplifting stories aimed at inspiring people to participate in advocacy campaigns. [16]

As of June 2021, Upworthy and GOOD claim an audience of 100 million monthly readers, though the left-of-center National Public Radio (NPR) placed the real number close to just 20 million per month in 2017. [17] [18] The group partners with organizations such as the left-of-center Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in order to amplify their social issue campaigns. [19] Upworthy’s page is one of the most popular on Facebook, with over 11 million likes and 10.7 million followers. [20] Upworthy posts daily on Instagram and has over 2.2 million followers. [21]

Activity

Upworthy operates as a news aggregation site which shares stories that are often aimed at mobilizing readers to support left-of-center activist causes. The stories often portray left-of-center policy goals as the solution to social problems, while casting a negative light on right-of-center policy positions. [22] The articles also frequently support left-of-center social values. For example, one piece claimed that people in Denmark have a better quality of life than Americans because they work fewer hours, prioritize family life, and guarantee paid vacation. [23]

Recent stories have included a feature piece on the symbolism behind First Lady Jill Biden’s “LOVE” jacket on a recent visit to Europe, which Upworthy compared to former First Lady Melania Trump’s wardrobe choices to suggest that the Trump administration was “incredibly callous.” [24] Other recent stories have included a piece on how a same-sex couple “outsmarted” the legal system in the 1970s to become married when it was still illegal and an article on how Burger King was supporting the left-of-center Human Rights Campaign (HRC) during Pride Month in order to challenge Chick-Fil-A’s pro-traditional marriage position. [25]

Upworthy has also explicitly supported left-of-center social movements, recently publishing a report claiming that protests led by the left-of-center Black Lives Matter movement have saved lives. [26] In 2014, Upworthy hosted then-First Lady Michelle Obama as a guest curator. [27]

Controversies

Development of “Click-Bait”

Upworthy has faced significant backlash across the political spectrum for its “click-bait” headlines which draw in readers through sensationalized content, encourage them to click on the article, then present an article with different content from that which was portrayed in the headline. [28] In an interview with NPR in 2017, then-Upworthy CEO Eli Pariser even admitted that a video on America’s health care system captioned, “His First 4 Sentences are Interesting. The 5th Blew My Mind. And Made Me a Little Sick” was “bad and misleading.” [29]

Left-of-center news organizations have compared Upworthy’s headlines to the sensational headlines which often accompany “fake news,” with one academic claiming they opened the “Pandora’s box” of fake news. [30] Upworthy’s content has been called “cloying,” “pandering,” and some of the “most widely mocked and reviled” content on the internet by the left-of-center New York Magazine. [31]

Upworthy’s reliance on clickbait became so prolific that one user created a plug-in for Google Chrome to analyze Upworthy headlines and replace them with less hyperbolic headlines that accurately reflected the content of the article. [32]

Staffing Controversies

Despite Upworthy’s support for left-of-center campaigns, the company has actively discouraged employee unionization. [33] In 2015, Upworthy allegedly laid off six staff members, prompting remaining Upworthy staff to try to unionize. Upworthy co-founders Eli Pariser and Peter Koechley dissuaded staff from unionizing, claiming that unionization would cause Upworthy to lose its venture capital funding. When asked about the controversy, Pariser acknowledged that he had discouraged unionization, claiming that unions are “an important force for economic equality, but that doing this now at Upworthy could come at a cost to the company.” [34]

Over the years, Upworthy has faced controversy for its turnover rates. In 2016, Upworthy laid off over 15% of its staff in order to pivot to video advertising because it was “where all the money is going.” A year later, when Upworthy merged with GOOD, the company laid off 20 more people. [35]

In August 2018, GOOD laid off at least 31 employees, which constituted 40% of the company’s staff at the time. Most of those laid off were Upworthy editorial staff. [36] The move also prompted then-Upworthy editor-in-chief Liz Heron, then-CEO Charlie Wilkie, and Pariser to resign from their positions. [37]

Following the 2018 layoffs, former employees spoke out against the work culture at Upworthy and GOOD. Former employees noted that there was “literally corporate drama almost every single day” due to unclear content goals for Upworthy writers. [38]

Former staff also expressed discontent with the merger with GOOD, claiming that GOOD was an unprofitable company prior to the merger that was cutting its costs by damaging Upworthy, despite the fact that the acquisition of Upworthy had restored GOOD to financial solvency. There was allegedly conflict between GOOD executives and Upworthy executives over advertising as well, with GOOD accusing Upworthy of setting arbitrary standards for advertising deals. [39] The two companies also faced a cultural clash, with GOOD executives pushing Upworthy to end its reliance on remote workers and encourage staff to relocate to Los Angeles. [40]

Funding

Upworthy was initially founded with money from investors including major left-of-center donor Chris Hughes. Hughes was one of the co-founders of Facebook who has since gone on to become publisher and editor-in-chief of The New Republic (TNR), a left-wing opinion journal. [41]

Upworthy and GOOD are funded primarily by advertising revenue and partnerships with various companies and nonprofit organizations. Previous Upworthy partners have included prominent left-of-center organizations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the United Nations Foundation, and the Atlantic Philanthropies. The organization has also partnered with global brands including the Gap, Holiday Inn, Unilever, Universal Pictures, Covergirl, Dove, and more. [42]

In 2013 and 2014, Upworthy came under fire for providing favorable coverage of the left-of-center Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) during union protests. The AFL-CIO had paid Upworthy $804,000 between 2013 and 2014 for “consulting on public education of labor movement,” and the SEIU paid $14,500. [43]

Leadership

Eli Pariser and Peter Koechley co-founded Upworthy. Pariser is a longtime left-wing activist, beginning his work as executive director of MoveOn.org when he was only 23 years old. In 2006 and prior to founding Upworthy, Pariser founded Avaaz, a left-of-center organizing group with 40 million members in 190 countries. [44] Pariser is now the co-director of the left-of-center National Conference on Citizenship (NCOC). [45]

Koechley is also a left-of-center activist who met Pariser when the two produced a video while working for MoveOn.org that got 23 million views during the 2008 election. [46] Koechley was also the co-creator and manager of The Onion, a left-of-center satire publication. [47]

Since 2008, Pariser has made 61 contributions to left-of-center candidates and campaigns. These include $2,500 to the Movement Voter PAC, $1000 to President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign, and 34 small contributions to Swing Left. [48] Koechley is also a Democratic donor, giving 464 contributions to left-of-center groups between 2017 and 2020. Most of Koechley’s donations have gone to ActBlue, though he has made additional contributions to MoveOn.org Political Action, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)’s presidential campaign, and the Democratic Party affiliates in Wisconsin and Michigan. [49]

References

  1. Kamenetz, Anya. “How Upworthy Used Emotional Data To Become The Fastest Growing Media Site of All Time.” Fast Company. Mansueto Ventures, September 14, 2013. https://www.fastcompany.com/3012649/how-upworthy-used-emotional-data-to-become-the-fastest-growing-media-site-of-all-time. ^
  2. “We Are GOOD & Upworthy- a Social Impact Company with a Mass Audience.” GOOD INC. Accessed June 18, 2021. https://goodinc.com/. ^
  3. Sanders, Sam. “Upworthy Was One Of The Hottest Sites Ever. You Won’t Believe What Happened Next.” NPR. NPR, June 20, 2017. https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2017/06/20/533529538/upworthy-was-one-of-the-hottest-sites-ever-you-wont-believe-what-happened-next. ^
  4. Sanders, Sam. “Upworthy Was One Of The Hottest Sites Ever. You Won’t Believe What Happened Next.” NPR. NPR, June 20, 2017. https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2017/06/20/533529538/upworthy-was-one-of-the-hottest-sites-ever-you-wont-believe-what-happened-next. ^
  5. Abebe, Nitsuh. “Watching Team Upworthy Work Is Enough to Make You a Cynic. Or Lose Your Cynicism. Or Both. Or Neither.” Intelligencer. New York Magazine, March 23, 2014. https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2014/03/upworthy-team-explains-its-success.html. ^
  6. Weinger, Mackenzie. “The Anti-Politics of ‘Upworthy’.” POLITICO, March 11, 2014. https://www.politico.com/story/2014/03/upworthy-website-politics-104513. ^
  7. “Unions Paid This Website $504,000. You Won’t Believe What Happened Next.” LaborPains.org. Center for Union Facts, April 21, 2015. https://laborpains.org/2015/04/21/unions-paid-this-website-504000-you-wont-believe-what-happened-next/. ^
  8. “Upworthy – Crunchbase Company Profile & Funding.” Crunchbase. Accessed June 18, 2021. https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/upworthy. ^
  9. Pilkington, Ed. “New Media Gurus Launch Upworthy – Their ‘Super Basic’ Internet Start-Up.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, March 26, 2012. https://www.theguardian.com/media/us-news-blog/2012/mar/26/upworthy-new-media-website-facebook-moveon. ^
  10. Sanders, Sam. “Upworthy Was One Of The Hottest Sites Ever. You Won’t Believe What Happened Next.” NPR. NPR, June 20, 2017. https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2017/06/20/533529538/upworthy-was-one-of-the-hottest-sites-ever-you-wont-believe-what-happened-next. ^
  11. Bull, James. “Read This to Find out How Upworthy’s Awful Headlines Changed the Web.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, March 16, 2014. https://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/mar/16/upworthy-website-generation-y-awful-headlines. ^
  12. Weinger, Mackenzie. “The Anti-Politics of ‘Upworthy’.” POLITICO, March 11, 2014. https://www.politico.com/story/2014/03/upworthy-website-politics-104513. ^
  13. Sanders, Sam. “Upworthy Was One Of The Hottest Sites Ever. You Won’t Believe What Happened Next.” NPR. NPR, June 20, 2017. https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2017/06/20/533529538/upworthy-was-one-of-the-hottest-sites-ever-you-wont-believe-what-happened-next. ^
  14. Kamenetz, Anya. “How Upworthy Used Emotional Data To Become The Fastest Growing Media Site of All Time.” Fast Company. Mansueto Ventures, September 14, 2013. https://www.fastcompany.com/3012649/how-upworthy-used-emotional-data-to-become-the-fastest-growing-media-site-of-all-time. ^
  15. Sanders, Sam. “Upworthy Was One Of The Hottest Sites Ever. You Won’t Believe What Happened Next.” NPR. NPR, June 20, 2017. https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2017/06/20/533529538/upworthy-was-one-of-the-hottest-sites-ever-you-wont-believe-what-happened-next. ^
  16. “We Are GOOD & Upworthy- a Social Impact Company with a Mass Audience.” GOOD INC. Accessed June 18, 2021. https://goodinc.com/. ^
  17. “We Are GOOD & Upworthy- a Social Impact Company with a Mass Audience.” GOOD INC. Accessed June 18, 2021. https://goodinc.com/. ^
  18. Sanders, Sam. “Upworthy Was One Of The Hottest Sites Ever. You Won’t Believe What Happened Next.” NPR. NPR, June 20, 2017. https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2017/06/20/533529538/upworthy-was-one-of-the-hottest-sites-ever-you-wont-believe-what-happened-next. ^
  19. “Amplify Your Brand’s Purpose Driven Work through the Biggest Megaphone for Social Good on the Internet.” GOOD INC. Accessed June 18, 2021. https://goodinc.com/Advertise. ^
  20. “Upworthy.” Facebook. Accessed June 18, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/Upworthy/. ^
  21. “Upworthy.” Instagram. Accessed June 18, 2021. https://www.instagram.com/upworthy/?hl=en. ^
  22. Perry, Tod. “Burger King Zings Chick-Fil-A by Donating Its Chicken Sandwich Profits to LGBTQ Group.” Upworthy. Upworthy, June 9, 2021. https://www.upworthy.com/burger-king-chick-fil-a-chicken-sandwich-lgbtq. ^
  23. Dunn, Thom. “Danes Have the Best Work-Life Balance in the World Thanks to These 3 Important Beliefs.” Upworthy. Upworthy, June 10, 2021. https://www.upworthy.com/danes-have-the-best-work-life-balance-in-the-world-thanks-to-these-3-important-beliefs. ^
  24. Perry, Tod. “Jill Biden Explains Why She Wore a ‘LOVE’ Jacket during First European Visit as First Lady.” Upworthy. Upworthy, June 11, 2021. https://www.upworthy.com/dr-jill-biden-wore-a-love-jacket-to-bring-unity-on-the-bidens-european-trip. ^
  25. Perry, Tod. “50 Years Ago, a Gay Couple Outsmarted a Court into Letting Them Marry. Here They Are Today.” Upworthy. Upworthy, June 9, 2021. https://www.upworthy.com/fifty-years-ago-a-gay-couple-outsmarted-the-court-into-allowing-them-to-get-married. ^
  26. Perry, Tod. “New Study Shows How the Black Lives Matter Protests Have Saved Hundreds of Lives.” GOOD. GOOD, February 12, 2021. https://www.good.is/Culture/study-shows-how-black-lives-matter-protests-have-saved-hundreds-of-lives. ^
  27. Cashmore, Pete. “So Michelle Obama Became Guest Curator Of Upworthy. You’ll Never Guess What Happened Next.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, September 9, 2014. https://www.theguardian.com/world/shortcuts/2014/sep/09/michelle-obama-upworthy-guest-curator. ^
  28. Sanders, Sam. “Upworthy Was One Of The Hottest Sites Ever. You Won’t Believe What Happened Next.” NPR. NPR, June 20, 2017. https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2017/06/20/533529538/upworthy-was-one-of-the-hottest-sites-ever-you-wont-believe-what-happened-next. ^
  29. Sanders, Sam. “Upworthy Was One Of The Hottest Sites Ever. You Won’t Believe What Happened Next.” NPR. NPR, June 20, 2017. https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2017/06/20/533529538/upworthy-was-one-of-the-hottest-sites-ever-you-wont-believe-what-happened-next. ^
  30. Sanders, Sam. “Upworthy Was One Of The Hottest Sites Ever. You Won’t Believe What Happened Next.” NPR. NPR, June 20, 2017. https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2017/06/20/533529538/upworthy-was-one-of-the-hottest-sites-ever-you-wont-believe-what-happened-next. ^
  31. Abebe, Nitsuh. “Watching Team Upworthy Work Is Enough to Make You a Cynic. Or Lose Your Cynicism. Or Both. Or Neither.” Intelligencer. New York Magazine, March 23, 2014. https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2014/03/upworthy-team-explains-its-success.html.[/note] In 2015, Upworthy co-founder Peter Koechley went so far as to apologize for the “monster” of click-bait that the site unleashed on the internet. [note]O’Reilly, Lara. “Upworthy Cofounder Peter Koechley Apologizes for the Clickbait ‘Monster’ His Site Unleashed on the Internet.” Business Insider. Business Insider, March 19, 2015. https://www.businessinsider.com/upworthy-co-founder-peter-koechley-at-guardian-changing-media-summit-2015-3. ^
  32. Hooton, Christopher. “Downworthy Plug-in Offers Upworthy Headlines without the Hyperbole.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, January 24, 2014. https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/downworthy-plug-offers-upworthy-headlines-without-hyperbole-9083881.html. ^
  33. Cohen, Steven. “How Digital Media Unionization Can-and Can’t-Strengthen the Labor Movement.” The New Republic, September 1, 2015. https://newrepublic.com/article/122667/how-digital-media-unionization-can-and-cant-strengthen-labor. ^
  34. Biddle, Sam. “Report: Upworthy’s Lefty Owners Scared Employees Out of Unionization.” Gawker, October 8, 2015. https://gawker.com/report-upworthys-lefty-owners-scared-employees-out-of-1723101414. ^
  35. Baldrige, Marlee. “Upworthy Just Laid off 31 People. The Question Remains Why.” Nieman Lab. Harvard University, August 3, 2018. https://www.niemanlab.org/2018/08/upworthy-just-laid-off-31-people-you-will-believe-why/. ^
  36. Willens, Max. “’Corporate Drama Almost Every Day’: Behind Strong Sales, Deep Discontent at Good and Upworthy.” Digiday. Digiday Media, August 6, 2018. https://digiday.com/media/corporate-drama-almost-every-day-behind-strong-sales-deep-discontent-good-upworthy/. ^
  37. Baldrige, Marlee. “Upworthy Just Laid off 31 People. The Question Remains Why.” Nieman Lab. Harvard University, August 3, 2018. https://www.niemanlab.org/2018/08/upworthy-just-laid-off-31-people-you-will-believe-why/. ^
  38. Willens, Max. “’Corporate Drama Almost Every Day’: Behind Strong Sales, Deep Discontent at Good and Upworthy.” Digiday. Digiday Media, August 6, 2018. https://digiday.com/media/corporate-drama-almost-every-day-behind-strong-sales-deep-discontent-good-upworthy/. ^
  39. Willens, Max. “’Corporate Drama Almost Every Day’: Behind Strong Sales, Deep Discontent at Good and Upworthy.” Digiday. Digiday Media, August 6, 2018. https://digiday.com/media/corporate-drama-almost-every-day-behind-strong-sales-deep-discontent-good-upworthy/. ^
  40. Willens, Max. “’Corporate Drama Almost Every Day’: Behind Strong Sales, Deep Discontent at Good and Upworthy.” Digiday. Digiday Media, August 6, 2018. https://digiday.com/media/corporate-drama-almost-every-day-behind-strong-sales-deep-discontent-good-upworthy/. ^
  41. Weinger, Mackenzie. “The Anti-Politics of ‘Upworthy’.” POLITICO, March 11, 2014. https://www.politico.com/story/2014/03/upworthy-website-politics-104513. ^
  42. “2014 Report: Upworthy Collaborations Generates $10 Million In Revenue In 9 Months Since Launch.” PRNewswire. Cision US, June 28, 2018. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/2014-report-upworthy-collaborations-generates-10-million-in-revenue-in-9-months-since-launch-300039011.html. ^
  43. “Unions Paid This Website $504,000. You Won’t Believe What Happened Next.” LaborPains.org. Center for Union Facts, April 21, 2015. https://laborpains.org/2015/04/21/unions-paid-this-website-504000-you-wont-believe-what-happened-next/. ^
  44. “Eli Pariser.” elipariser.org. Accessed June 18, 2021. https://www.elipariser.org/. ^
  45. “Eli Pariser, Co-Director, Civic Signals.” National Conference on Citizenship. Accessed June 18, 2021. https://ncoc.org/staff/eli-pariser-co-director-civic-signals/. ^
  46. Abebe, Nitsuh. “Watching Team Upworthy Work Is Enough to Make You a Cynic. Or Lose Your Cynicism. Or Both. Or Neither.” Intelligencer. New York Magazine, March 23, 2014. https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2014/03/upworthy-team-explains-its-success.html. ^
  47. “Home.” Speakers Bureau. All American Speakers Bureau. Accessed June 18, 2021. https://www.allamericanspeakers.com/celebritytalentbios/Peter+Koechley/394008. ^
  48. “Browse Individual Contributions: Eli Pariser.” FEC.gov. Federal Election Commission. Accessed June 18, 2021. https://www.fec.gov/data/receipts/individual-contributions/?contributor_name=Eli%2BPariser&contributor_employer=Upworthy&two_year_transaction_period=2014&min_date=01%2F01%2F2007&max_date=12%2F31%2F2022. ^
  49. “Browse Individual Contributions: Peter Koechley.” FEC.gov. Federal Election Commission. Accessed June 18, 2021. https://www.fec.gov/data/receipts/individual-contributions/?contributor_name=Peter%2BKoechley&contributor_city=Brooklyn&two_year_transaction_period=2022&min_date=01%2F01%2F2007&max_date=12%2F31%2F2022. ^
  See an error? Let us know!