Clickbait rankings hit us where we live, but often miss the mark

Augusta sure has been taking it on the chin lately.

 

In case you haven’t heard, in the past few months it’s been ranked one of the unhealthiest cities in the whole country. It’s also been called one of the unhappiest. And one of the worst cities for recreation. And one of the worst cities to find a job.

That’s not according to me, though. I’m a walking billboard for the chamber of commerce compared to WalletHub.

WalletHub mainly is a personal finance website that offers free credit scores and dispenses advice on how to manage your budget. Apparently it also dabbles in ranking cities and states – the best cities for families, the best cities for basketball fans, the best states in which to retire, the least-educated states, the worst states for women. You name it, and WalletHub most likely ranked it.

Why? Because we’re Americans, and we like ranking stuff. Or at least seeing stuff ranked.

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John Carroll, a mass communications assistant professor at Boston University, has three reasons why we rank stuff. And he, um, ranked them, for The Boston Globe:

“No. 1, people love lists. No. 2, people are incredibly competitive. And No. 3, people are incredibly jealous of other people.”

And social media are like the fuses that light these rankings afire.

“So these lists play into all of that, in terms of attracting attention (and) in terms of engagement,” he said.

Translation: It’s clickbait – a link that exists mainly to get web-surfers to visit someone’s page.

WalletHub says it relies on key indicators culled from government data and other sources to render its decisions about – I don’t know, what’s left? The best cities for owls? The worst states for people who like to wear sweaters?

I’d urge everyone to take these rankings with a grain of salt. But not too much salt. – we’re supposed to be in one of America’s unhealthiest cities.

Anyway, all these types of rankings – brace yourselves – might not be accurate.

Here’s an example: In 2012, the Bloomberg magazine Businessweek ranked Raleigh, N.C., the No. 1 place to live in the United States. Writers applied more than a dozen indexes to the nation’s 100 largest cities and Raleigh came out on top. Everybody can agree on that, right?

Wrong. Here’s how a guy named Anthony Collins responded in a comments thread on the website bestplaces.net:

“Raleigh isn’t a city. Its a regular-nothing-special … planned kind a place that thinks that having three tall buildings in what it laughingly calls ‘downtown’ qualifies it as (a) city. … As for the people, they really are quite rude, arrogant and tiny-minded, and God help you if you need a job here and don’t know anyone.”

Wait! That can’t be true! More than a dozen indexes! So who’s right, the magazine or the Internet troll?

Both of them.

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You can’t jam a bunch of statistics about a city together and create a portrait that’s 100 percent accurate for everyone. Just about every city has its intangible qualities that keep people either loving it or hating it.

“What is vibrant and interesting to one person is loud and overwhelming to another,” said Joe Peach in an interview with Salon magazine. He’s the founder and former editor for the website This Big City.

Different people like cities for different reasons that can’t be tallied on a graph. You can rank the cities with the most coffee shops, Peach said for example, but you couldn’t make a definitive, bulletproof list of cities with the “best coffee.”

Can you even quantify “fun”? Can one city statistically be 12.3 percent more fun than another city?

I’m sure Augustans could be healthier and happier. Everybody could be. All these rankings might be useful to start a spirited debate about where Augusta is and where it can go.

But if you’re looking for the indisputable truth in these rankings, keep walking.

No really, keep walking. It’s good for your health. Remember where you live.

 

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