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Ashley Montgomery
Professor Dan Martin
ENC 4416
12 July 2015
Rhetorical Analysis of the Digital Writing Environment, BuzzFeed.com
The role of digital writing environments has grown tremendously in the past decades and
continues to grow. From humble beginnings as chatrooms to possibly usurping print material as
the leading provider of news, digital writing environments are on the rise. One such environment
is BuzzFeed.com, an online source for news and entertainment. As a digital writing environment,
BuzzFeed is known for its silly quizzes and lighthearted lists, but this website also publishes
news stories and editorials about serious issues in the world such as the crisis in Greece and
racism in America. Critics of BuzzFeed say that the site is too liberal and ridiculous to be taken
seriously as a news outlet (Zara). I will be rhetorically analyzing BuzzFeed to determine whether
it is a fair source of news and other content, as well as how the content works with the audience.
Like many other digital writing environments, BuzzFeed is criticized as being an echo chamber
and a flippant source of content. I will examine these claims in this essay.
The Environment
BuzzFeed is not shy in addressing its purpose; its slogan is The Media Company for the
Social Age (BuzzFeed). This tells us upfront that BuzzFeed is addressing young adults, most
of whom grew up in the social age. This demographic encompasses ages 18 to 35 ("A
Comparison of Young, Middle-aged, and Older Adult). This also tells us that BuzzFeed is

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attempting to be an all-encompassing website. One only has to look at the front page to see a
smattering of news (national and international) and entertainment. It seems that BuzzFeed is
trying to attract young adults with an all-in-one site because that is what the audience is used to:
An experiment, comparing a BuzzFeed story treatment to a USA Today story
treatment, was conducted on 438 college-age students during Spring 2014. It
found that most young adults preferred BuzzFeed, saying they enjoyed the site for
its humor and entertainment (Bullock ii).
Young adults grew up in an age where everything was accessible. Grocery stores were open 24/7,
malls had everything from clothes to toys to technology all within walking distance, and there
were entire buildings dedicated to renting movies (and that became even more accessible with
Netflix). BuzzFeed took advantage of that need for ease (sometimes called laziness) and created
a space where one can peruse entertainment and be alerted to important news within a click of
the computer mouse.
As weve established, BuzzFeed is attempting to create content that is both informative
and humorous. Evidence of the silly, nonchalant side is seen through quizzes such as What Kind
Of Dessert Are You Most Like? and lists like Top 10 Things On Billy Ray Cyrus Counter
(IslamAyesha; Stopera). Obviously, pieces like these are meant to attract the young adult
audience and help solidify BuzzFeed as an entertainment site. But, there is also evidence of the
serious, journalistic side with articles concerning rape allegations against Bill Cosby or the Iran
nuclear deal. Articles like these add to BuzzFeeds credibility as a news source because they are
relevant to the audience and updated continuously, thus the audience can believe that they are
reading factual information. There are so many websites that are dedicated to entertainment and

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news that many of them tend to overlap information. Even BuzzFeed is guilty of it, so how does
this digital writing environment survive? I question myself on why I continue to return to
BuzzFeed when I know that sites, such as TheChive.com, offer the same content. The reason is
that BuzzFeeds content is more attractive. Evidence on why BuzzFeed is chosen includes
relevant pictures or interesting videos that accompany the content. For example, an article was
just published that detailed the Aurora Shooter, James Holmes, murder sentence (Dalrymple).
The article could have merely been filled with black text in a white background and any audience
member would have understood the gist of the story. But, BuzzFeed included images of James
Holmes, the victims and their families. Audio of the victims speaking about the sentencing was
also provided. By going this extra step, the audience now can empathize with the victims and
understand the gravity of the situation better than if they had only read text. This makes the
audience more prone to choose BuzzFeed because there is that extra element of participation.
Reading an article offers simple involvement, but looking at pictures and watching videos along
with reading allows the audience to understand the content better, thus increasing their
involvement. Evidence of BuzzFeeds attempt to create content that is attractive to those seeking
entertainment and news is seen through the images, videos, lists, and articles that encompass the
website.
The Constraints
As a digital writing environment, BuzzFeed is not without its faults. Some critics say that
the site is not a valid news source because its humor is distracting or juvenile (Bullock 47).
Others state that BuzzFeed is far too liberal; Media Research Center, a conservative sympathizer,
decried the website as wallowing in bigotry (Yoder).

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When looking at the content on BuzzFeeds home page, it ranges from clearly farcical
content such as 11 Dogs Who Learned The Hard Way Not To Eat Bees to real news stories like
Chattanooga Comes Together To Mourn Marines Killed In Mass Shooting (Chack;Hayes).
Seeing this mix of humor and seriousness can confuse any audience member. How can a website
that publishes such inane content also have the skills to write journalistic-quality stories?
Questions like this cause this digital writing environment to lose credibility. The greatest strength
of BuzzFeed, its ability to combine news and entertainment, is also its Achilles heel. It is
difficult to believe that writers who publish funny articles can also be professional journalists
that are capable of reporting information accurately. Another loss of credibility stems from the
fact that BuzzFeeds site personality varies widely (Halvorson, Rach 87). The site switches
from goofy to stupid to informative constantly. One page will have graphs and lists, another page
will have text, and others will have one image with nothing else. This inconsistency creates a
lack of credibility because it seems like no one is in control of editing the site. This goes against
Content Strategys rule of, Put someone in charge which means that BuzzFeed is not taking its
site seriously and neither should the audience (Halvorson, Rach 5).
BuzzFeed is also labeled as a leftwing echo chamber. Howard Rheingold, author of Net
Smart, states that the echo chamber effect is the tendency of individuals to pay attention to only
those online sources that reinforce their own beliefs (Rheingold 95). There is evidence to
support this because BuzzFeed has a specific audience and staff. Besides a few outliers, most of
the people who visit BuzzFeed and create content for BuzzFeed are young adults, ages 18 to 35.
This can be a problem because it creates a vacuum of viewpoints and thus, an echo chamber
because There is substantial evidence that people are interested in opinion-reinforcing political
information (Garrett 267). According to a Los Angeles Times article, The millennials are also

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the only generation of adults with more people who identify themselves as liberals than as
conservatives (Lauter). This means that BuzzFeed is primarily read and written by liberals,
many of whom outwardly mock conservatism. As R. Kelly Garrett states, Recent research
provides compelling evidence that individuals decisions about what they read and watch are
informed by their political beliefs (Garrett 266). This doesnt bode well for BuzzFeed as a
digital writing environment because the audience does not view it as a bipartisan site. Content
written on BuzzFeed will be viewed with less credibility because it may have a liberal bias.
Criticisms such as too liberal and not valid news keep BuzzFeed from being recognized as a
truly competent digital writing environment.
The Advantages
Despite the constraints of BuzzFeed as a digital writing environment, this website has
distinct advantages. Perhaps because BuzzFeed is a relatively young site and is run by young
adults, there is a co-creative environment between the staff and the audience. The audience is
often encouraged to tell their stories for an upcoming article. For example, the article How Do
You Take Care Of Yourself After A Migraine? asked readers to give their best tips and advice on
how to deal with migraines (Tamarkin). Those people who commented would be featured in an
upcoming BuzzFeed post about migraines. Co-creating content works well because the audience
feels like they are a part of BuzzFeed, not just an onlooker. The added element of participation
makes the audience feel like BuzzFeed cares about them; this makes readers return to the site
continuously because they feel involved. Plus, audience members who get featured in BuzzFeed
posts will likely spread that news to family and friends through social media and word-of-mouth,
which is a free referral service to BuzzFeed.

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Halvorson and Rach state that content has to be useful, usable, enjoyable, and
persuasive and BuzzFeed achieves that (Halvorson, Rach 53). Through bullet points, short
paragraphs and multimedia like images and videos, BuzzFeed creates content that is easy to
understand and enjoyable to read. According to a participant in Tara Bullocks study, The
chunking of text on BuzzFeed makes it easier to read and comprehend. It has pictures and
doesnt feel like Im reading a lot (Bullock 46). BuzzFeed is publishing content that is geared to
young adults who are used to receiving information in quick spurts. Seeing a young adult open a
newspaper and scour it front to back is a rarity, but seeing one check the headlines on social
media is a common occurrence. BuzzFeed mimics that quick, facts-first type of publishing.
Although BuzzFeeds site personality is inconsistent, the content they produce is functional and
fun, no matter what form its in.
Another advantage of BuzzFeed is the fact that it publishes national and international
content. Stories from all over the world can be read on BuzzFeed such as Stampede in India
Kills At Least 20 People or 1 In 5 Syrians Have Now Fled the Country (Araujo; Hayes). This
allows the audience to have a broader understanding of world events, which in turn creates a
generation of people who are aware of more than just their own town or country. Plus, this digital
writing environment has changed the way we think. Through continuous news updating, we have
learned to constantly check back on news stories to see what is developing. This has made us
into a more attentive and critical audience. We know not to take stories at face-value anymore,
but instead to wait until all the facts have come out. In the past, when news was published once
per day, people had to take whatever information was given as basically truth until the next day
when more news was published that could clear up any errors. Now, in digital writing
environments, news is constantly updated and errors are corrected. We can stay current with the

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situation as it occurs and BuzzFeed keeps running articles of the days top stories on its home
page where people can easily access it. There is even a red bar with bold words spelling
Update to let the audience know that new information has surfaced. BuzzFeed, as a digital
writing environment, excels in publishing usable, enjoyable content that encourages the audience
to participate. This site is changing the way we think about content through its continuous
updating of national and international news.
Conclusion
As a digital writing environment BuzzFeed.com faces many challenges such as how to
establish itself as a credible news source and how to interact with the audience in this everchanging technological world. After analyzing this digital writing environment, I have found that
BuzzFeed is a work in progress. It has seemingly credible news stories, but these are often
overshadowed by lists and quizzes of nonsense. The site does appear to have a left-wing bias,
however, many other news outlets do, as well. BuzzFeed does excel at capturing its audience and
creating return readers. Through encouraging audience participation and co-creating, BuzzFeed
makes its audience feel included in a group. The content on BuzzFeed is relevant and relatable to
its audience. This is good for attracting people in that audience type, but bad for attracting other
demographics which can lead to an echo chamber effect. BuzzFeed may be a little shaky, but as a
digital writing environment, it is navigating the murky waters of the web just as well as any of
us.

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Works Cited
Halvorson, Kristina, and Melissa Rach. Content Strategy for the Web. 2nd ed. Berkeley, CA:
New Riders, 2012. Print.
Rheingold, Howard. Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. Cambridge: MIT, 2012. Print.
Bullock, Tara. "THE BUZZ ON BUZZFEED: CAN READERS LEARN THE NEWS FROM
LISTS?" Thesis. University of Alabama, 2014. Print.
Garrett, R. Kelly. "Echo Chambers Online?: Politically Motivated Selective Exposure among
Internet News Users." Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 14.2 (2009): 26585. 30 Mar. 2009. Web. 18 July 2015.
Lauter, David. "Millennial Generation Less Religious, More Liberal than Older Ones." Los
Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 07 Mar. 2014. Web. 18 July 2015.
"A Comparison of Young, Middle-aged, and Older Adult Treatment-seeking Pathological
Gamblers." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of
Medicine, Feb. 2002. Web. 15 July 2015.
Zara, Christopher. "BuzzFeed Attacked By Liberal And Conservative Media Watchdogs As Its
Viral Reach Grows." International Business Times. International Business Times, 23 July
2013. Web. 15 July 2015.
"BuzzFeed." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Aug. 2009. Web. 29 June 2015.
IslamAyesha. "Community Post: What Kind Of Dessert Are You Most Like?"BuzzFeed
Community. BuzzFeed Inc., 13 July 2015. Web. 15 July 2015.

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Works Cited Continued


Stopera, Matt. "Top 10 Things On Billy Ray Cyrus' Counter." BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed Inc., 16 Feb.
2011. Web. 15 July 2015.
Jim Dalrymple, II. "James Holmes Found Guilty Of Murder In Colorado Movie Theater
Massacre." BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed Inc., 16 July 2015. Web. 16 July 2015.
Yoder, Katie. "BuzzFeed Mocks Pope Benedict XVI in 'Gayest' Photos."Media Research Center.
Media Research Center, 12 Feb. 2013. Web. 17 July 2015.
Chack, Erin. "11 Dogs Who Learned The Hard Way Not To Eat Bees."BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed Inc.,
29 July 2014. Web. 18 July 2015.
Hayes, Mike. "Chattanooga Comes Together To Mourn Marines Killed In Mass
Shooting." BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed Inc., 17 July 2015. Web. 17 July 2015.
Tamarkin, Sally. "How Do You Take Care Of Yourself After A Migraine?"BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed
Inc., 6 July 2015. Web. 19 July 2015.
Araujo, Felipe. "Stampede In India Kills At Least 20 People." BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed Inc., 14 July
2015. Web. 19 July 2015.
Brown, Hayes. "1 In 5 Syrians Have Now Fled The Country." BuzzFeed. Buzzfeed Inc., 9 July
2015. Web. 19 July 2015.

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