Upworthy, the digital born media platform, is dedicated to sharing stories about important issues that affect everyone; “Because we’re all part of the same story.” The stories they provide are both happy and sad, but are all imbued with the goal of connecting people. By sharing this information Upworthy hopes to inspire empathy and motivate change.
The company’s co-founder, Eli Praiser, like BuzzFeed’s president, wants to elevate important topics through technology. Like BuzzFeed, Upworthy recognizes that “the old media had tons of problems;” and that the internet can be more narrow than broad. Upworthy strives to stand apart from the drone of affirmation and “empty stories that drown out the ones that matter most.” Although “completely native to the digital/mobile/social moment of the early 21st century,” the company upholds old media’s “noble mission to inform the public and draw attention to the things that really matter in our society.”
Among the fuzzy, “feel-good” stories of human celebration, Upworthy recognizes plights of the people, confronting issues of sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, climate change, and wildlife preservation. The site also reports on positive political efforts and celebrities who advocate for the same. The most notable aspect of politic-heavy news sites like Upworthy is their apparent political affiliation or unaffiliatibn. Indeed, the company’s disapproval of Trump and his administration is evident and repeatedly reported on.
But following any political disparaging are uplifting sentiments and encouragement. Upworthy makes it a point to have an overall feeling of heart-stirring inspiration and connectivity represented throughout their articles. They celebrate communities and efforts of positive social change and human connection between the negative current events.
Aesthetically, Upworthy’s layout is minimalistic and easy to navigate, set against a white background uncluttered by ads. Stories are separated by large text and big, colorful, profound photography. Within their pieces are informational videos that support their arguments and links to the data and sources they use; links for additional information and further reading are often offered at the bottom of the page. They have articles formatted as lists and illustrated comics, articles centered around photographs, and articles without any pictures.
The website’s front page strategically formats the order and sizes of articles, the most moving stories first and largest. For instance, right now, (March 27th,) an article by Robbie Couch dominates the front page; “This heartbreaking fact about the #MissingDCGirls should concern all of us.” The headline evinces and continues the company’s mission to move people’s attention towards specific topics that concern us all as a collective society. Lining the right side of the page are more socially-conscious story headlines such as a cautionary article about the detrimental consequences of feeding bread to ducks, and a story about Muslim support after the attack in London. These types of articles are the first that a reader will encounter. Compared to the front page of BuzzFeed’s website, there is much less clutter and more focus on serious stories.
Out of the first articles a reader on BuzzFeed’s website would currently encounter, only two are “serious” or regard current politics and are surrounded by a myriad of celebrity photo collections and time wasting quizzes like “How Bougie is Your Taste in Food?” and “Literally Just Pig Out on Some Junk Food and We’ll Guess Your Height and Shoe Size.” Upworthy may have some more frivolous and fun types of articles and lists further down the page, but even they are imbued with ethical motivation; each one works towards the goal of motivating unity and celebrating human connection.
Upworthy’s presence on social media is consistent, spreading emotionally moving and inspiring stories of human connection and societal progress on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. They have a well stocked archive of interviews and short stories on YouTube, with categories like “Humanity FTW,” which “celebrates a business or organization enacting systemic change at the local level,” and “Another Person’s Shoes,” which “gives viewers the unique perspective of experiencing what an underserved person of a different gender, culture, society, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and/or other walk of life encounters daily.”
Twitter echoes their headlines by posting links to their articles as well as more local stories, photo stories, and list-style informational stories such as “5 things I didn’t want to hear when I was grieving and 1 thing that helped,” and “9 beautiful photos that push back on awful stereotypes of black men.” Their Facebook page is more concerned with videos about neighborly love and community outreach initiatives- everything from the skate-boarding French Bulldogs who help the homeless to the sisters who convinced the government of Bali to eliminate plastic bags.
According to the company’s advertising page in which they describe to possible advertisers the reasons and advantages for working with Upworthy, their stories are shared 9x more than the industry average, and their videos are viewed by more than 300 million people monthly. Their stories, shared more than those of BuzzFeed or The Huffington Post, are most shared by educated females. They claim that this audience is the most important one that advertisers should concern themselves with as they are the most socially influential and value driven consumers. 50% of shares are done by millennials and 74% are shared via mobile devices, factors the company takes measures to accommodate through their clean and easily manageable aesthetic.
Humanitarian, feminist, and openly critical of current politics, Upworthy can be seen as a liberal counter to sites like Hot Air and Human Events. For a clear contrast, one can compare Upworthy’s encouraging article about the recent International Women’s Strike to Hot Air’s unsympathetic article about the event; the former states the movement’s reasons in the first paragraph while the entirety of the latter’s article can’t distinguish any, (other than the dangerous formation of tribalism.)
Another comparison can be made by the sites’ news categories; at the top of Human Events they’re listed as “News & Politics,” “Guns & Patriots,” “Money,” “Health” and “Newsletters;” whereas Upworthy’s reads, “Videos,” “Being Well,” “Culture,” “Breakthroughs,” “Real Life,” and “The Conversation.”
One of Upworthy’s regular contributors, Parker Molloy, is a writer, blogger, and intersectional feminist “who doesn’t think people should legislate what others do with their bodies.” Her hobbies include “chipping away at the patriarchy” and “fighting transphobia.” Her Twitter is full of news stories and criticism surrounding Trump and his administration. The articles she contributes to Upworthy reflect her political and moral stances, and accordingly, convey the company’s goals of social progress. Other trending writers, like Robbie Couch and Erin Canty, are also outspoken advocates of LGBTQ and racial equality, whose personal twitters echo the sentiments of Upworthy and the articles they write.
What makes Upworthy successful is its consistent testament to humanitarian values and the share-ability of their stories. Especially in today’s divisive political climate, Upworthy’s denunciation of political policies and social institutions that fail to be inclusive or uplifting are in high demand. Rather than add more reportorial stories that lack critical thinking to the digital sea of frivolous others, Upworthy places heavy emphasis on its role as a “sense-maker” by contextualizing their stories. They ask readers to contemplate the implications and consequences of certain policies and encourage them to do something about it.
While contextualizing human connections, Upworthy also acts as “witness-bearer,” keeping a critical eye on systematic and legislative oppression. The site’s sense of moral judgment speaks to many people who are oppressed, including racial and religious minorities, women, people affected by poverty, people with disabilities and mental illness, and members of the LGBTQ community; in the US and other countries. Like-minded people are encouraged to share stories on Twitter and Facebook, convenient buttons for doing so located at the top and bottom of each page, as well as on a header that remains as one scrolls.
Although critical of current events, the site’s overall tone is one of encouragement, making it a point to discuss the good things that happen everyday as much as the disgraceful, if not more so. The website states that their brand is built on empathy because it works; “when content makes people feel positive, activated, and empowered, they are more likely to share it on social media.”As heart strings are tugged and “share” buttons are clicked, Upworthy’s mission statement becomes reality: