Viral Sites Exploiting Sympathy and Prayers for Country Legends (The Scourge of Facebook, Part 2)


EDITOR”S NOTE: This is the second installment in a series on articles on how Facebook is allowing for the eroding of the moral fabric and accountability in country music and beyond.

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When Saving Country Music started nearly nine years ago, the media rarely talked about country legends. They were relics forgotten in time that weren’t worth wasting website space on because few people cared, and the ones who did weren’t online. Now that your mother and grandmother all have Facebook pages and smartphones, country legends and their regular health ailments are the stuff of clickbait dreams for viral farms, not just for the sympathy country legends can arouse, but how you can use them to prey on the power of prayer to get Facebook users and other online traffic to like and share overhyped information presented in an irresponsible manner.

This is the way of the internet these days of course, especially since Google and ad blockers disrupted the economics of websites to the point where if you’re not generating millions of clicks, you can’t make it. Google makes sure to police such content and activity, and diminishes it in search results. But Facebook emphasizes such content, especially if the outlets pay for promoted exposure. As people continue to spend more time of Facebook, the issue becomes exacerbated. But when you start exploiting country legends, as Merle Haggard would say, “They’re walkin’ on the fightin’ side of me.”

Merle Haggard’s see-sawing health issues have certainly been a matter of intrigue over the last few months. It was announced late Tuesday (3-1) that the country music legend has postponed yet another month of dates as he continues to deal with issues stemming from a double pneumonia first diagnosed in December. Since canceling his December dates, Merle’s tour schedule has been on again, and off again, and official word has been hard to find, leading to the frustration of some fans.

But part of the reason the situation has been so fluid is because Merle’s health has been fluid as well. He’s been telling people it actually makes him feel better to play shows, so if he can, he will. At the same time, an abundance of caution is being taken since the country legend is now 78-years-old. But as Merle’s publicist Tresa Redburn told Saving Country Music recently, “Merle Haggard’s not on death’s door. The lack of information is because there isn’t any … He’s going to be 79 in April. He been a little bit weaker than usual, but he’s planning on continuing and doing his thing. The whole year rest of the dates haven’t been canceled.”

But that’s not how some outlets are portraying it, leading to sensationalism and misinformation.


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clickbait-2Even worse, one site implied that Don Williams had died, when he’d only announced his retirement.


Saving Country Music went to one of these sites called “Newsbake Country,” and that’s pretty much all they post. Here’s a selection of headlines posted just in the last five days:

  • The Band Perry Urges For Prayers, This Is So Tough…
  • Dolly Parton’s Family Just Broke Some Bad News. This is Tough.
  • Days After A Show, Kid Rock Posts Heartbreaking News
  • Joey Feek Is Leaving A Powerful Legacy. I Can’t Believe She Did This.
  • What Loretta Lynn Just Said About Her Marriage Has Me in Total Shock
  • Alan & Denise Jackson Share Heartbreaking News, I Can’t Believe This!
  • Kelly Clarkson Just Shared Terribly Sad News On Her Pregnancy, This Is Tough
  • Hours Before A Show Jason Aldean Gets Tragic News, This Is Tough To Watch
  • Keith Urban Breaks Heartbreaking News, This Can’t Be The END!
  • Chris Stapleton Just Released Sad News. This Is Hard To Watch.
  • Brad Paisley Posts A Rough A Rough Health Update, Please PRAY!
  • Rory Just Posted The News We All Feared, God Bless The Feek’s
  • Rory Feek Has Just Reached Desperation, Please PRAY!

The tragic story of Joey + Rory, and Joey Feeks Cancer fight has been an especially hot topic for viral farms. But note that except for Merle Haggard and Joey Feek’s ailments which we already knew about, nobody died in mainstream country music, and there’s been no major announcement about a major ailment from a country star. It’s all hype. This makes TMZ look like NPR.

Merle Haggard has been sick and it is a case for concern. But misleading people on how the news is dire about Merle or anyone else, and prayers are needed NOW is exploitative and irresponsible. Furthermore, like the boy who cried wolf, if folks are asked so many times for urgent prayers after it’s characterized that Merle is on death’s door and he isn’t, at some point they’re going to stop caring.

These viral sites are just doing what they do, and it’s as predictable as it is sickening. But is seems like preying on the sickness of important public figures is especially shameless. In the end it’s up to the reader to choose how they interact with media, and making sure that they read, like, and share is from reputable sources instead of sensationalized clickbait.

Merle Haggard continues to take it easy out of an abundance of caution, and I’m sure he appreciates everyone’s prayers for a speedy recovery. But each time a country legend cancels a show, it doesn’t mean they’re on death’s door. It’s just part of what happens with older performers.