We all know by now that the internet contains all sorts of bad things, ranging from the truly, truly wretched to really not advised to kind of irritating to absolutely infuriating. And within that continuum lives something called "confirm-shaming."
Truthfully, I didn't know confirm-shaming was a thing with an actual name until a couple of weeks ago when I was browsing online, casually shopping for shoes, and up popped a big box on the screen to block the pumps I was eyeing, forcing me to engage with it instead of the objects of my desire. It asked me something like, "Do you want all the gorgeous footwear you can possibly purchase for cheaper than you ever imagined?" There were two possible answers I had to choose from in order to move forward, and one was essentially, "Yes, I am a wise individual who is also fashionable" while the other was some version of, "No, I'm terrible and bad and will die in penury wearing hideous footwear."
Confirm-shaming presents an existential conundrum. Do you let a website think you're stupid, and bear the sting of that for however many minutes it is until you bear the sting of something more monstrous? Or do you fall — hook, line, and sinker — for this manipulation, thirsty as we all are for confirmation, and say, "Yes, I am wise, I will do whatever you want me to if you tell me I am wise!" and then end up with a ton of emails in your inbox for shoe discounts that you'll never use?
After my experience, I asked Twitter, "Is there a word for the passive-aggressive website prompts that ask you to choose 'I love sales!' vs. 'I hate sales & am dum' to move forward?" Yes! Said a few lovely people, pointing me to a Tumblr that chronicles the marketing tactic, defining it as "when a site asks you to sign up for their thing and then the 'no thank you' link is some hot garbage."
Once you see confirm-shaming, you can't unsee it; it is rampant and unapologetic and really quite rude.
"Would you like to become an SEO badass?" asks one example, offering two responses: "Yes, please make me a badass!" or "No, I want to continue living in my mom's basement."
"Want to know the best foods to burn belly fat?" Your options: "Show me the super foods" versus "I'm not interested in burning belly fat" (i.e., I'm really quite gluttonous, thanks).
These not-even-veiled digs feel snarky and of the moment, a kind of in-your-face-but-tongue-in-cheek marketing technique that presumes to know you better than yourself. If you were dating one of these websites, your therapist would tell you to get out now, they're gaslighting you.
The offenses are ever growing — even at the places we thought of as our friends. As writer Sarah Weinman tweeted at me, "the worst is Esquire's, which advertises the 80 books list and then to kill the ad the text is, 'I don't read.' I'm a voracious reader and that ad goes against my entire self, so I feel like a traitor clicking on it." SAT websites aimed at college-bound kids are getting in on the act, too. One asks, "Want to learn how you can raise your SAT score by 160 points, guaranteed?" Answers: "YES, I Want to Raise My SAT Score!" (notably larger as an option), followed by "No, I'm Happy With My SAT" (as if any self-respecting student would actually say this unless they already had the top score, in which case, why would they be on this page in the first place?). And it seems fitting that this gambit is being used politically. A recent email from Trump Headquarters asked the following: "QUICK POLL: Do you stand with President Trump?" allowing you to choose between two options: "I Stand With President Trump" or "I Believe Democrats and Fake News."
This goes against every truth we know. As Julianne Tveten wrote in a piece for Vice last year, "It's probably fair to suggest that most people using the internet want to save money, make healthy choices, and keep abreast of current events. What they don't want, is to give companies their email addresses to prove it … It would be laughable if it weren't so inherently predatory." Yet we're all so used to the internet housing this sort of messaging — and sometimes much worse — and the digital marketer's struggle for eyes is so ignoble and raw, we accept that this is just how the web works now.
But nothing on the internet lasts that long, not even the pain of someone who doesn't even know you deigning to call you lazy for not wanting to sign up for a deluge of recipes in your inbox ("Do you want more tasty foods you can make at home?" "No, I'm lazy af"). And the battle against confirm-shaming is on, with consumers shaming the offending brands in return. Of course, this isn't a very long-game strategy, and it could very well implode before we have to shame it into hiding. Writer Brandon Dorn explains at Viget: "From an experience design standpoint, you're playing with fire. For one, these modals are presumptive: They disrupt visitors' normal browsing behavior online, and often can't tell the difference between a new or already-subscribed visitor, so you risk doubly-offending patrons." He predicts a short life for the confirm-shaming trend, suggesting in the meantime that you "simply close the browser tab" when you encounter one. That way, "you end the visitor session being recorded by the website's analytics, which means that you're doubly frustrating their efforts to cajole you: You aren't subscribing, and you're decreasing their average visit length. It might be annoying to search for another lasagna recipe, but you'll find one."
As an alternative — and if you really want the content — there's something strangely joyous about freeing yourself to click the "I'm stupid and hate saving money"/ "I want to be more miserable" option, knowing that you're trolling the company back just as hard as they thought they were going to troll you. You owe them nothing, not even your email address!