That Miley Cyrus captures more attention than escalating war in Syria is, by now, conventional wisdom. But an exhaustive survey of news sources now reveals exactly how much attention Miley steals: Americans viewed twelve times as many pages about Miley Cyrus as they did about Syria — even though the news sources published 2.4 Syria articles for every one about Miley.
Outbrain supplies "related links" modules to a network of 100,000 publishers, including major news sources like CNN, Fox News, and ESPN. On any given day, 87 percent of Americans who browse the web will view a page with an Outbrain module, explains the company's vice-president of global marketing. They collect traffic data from every site in their network, which they use in a variety of algorithms to generate recommendations.
In the three days surrounding Miley's VMA performance and the Obama administration signaling its willingness to bomb Syria, Outbrain's network generated 8,104 stories about the former and 19,568 about the latter. The day after the VMAs, Miley Cyrus stories accounted for 12 percent of total U.S. page views, while Syria stories accounted for 1 percent.
Interest in the starlet significantly outpaced Syria in England, Australia, France, Germany, and every other nation in Outbrain's analysis — except Israel and Russia. Globally, Miley Cyrus stories generated eight times as many page views as Syria did in the days surrounding the VMAs.
Two million Syrian refugees have fled the nation. To make the country twelve times more compelling — and thus as compelling as Miley Cyrus's ass is to Americans — the conflict only needs to displace 22 million more, i.e., the entire population of Syria.
The day after the VMAs, joking about the Miley-Syria attention gap was popular online, too. The Onion told Slate's Farhad Manjoo that its best traffic day to date coincided with a widely shared parody attributed to a CNN manager, entitled "Let Me Explain Why Miley Cyrus' VMA Performance Was Our Top Story This Morning." Laughing at those who read about Miley Cyrus is America's second-favorite pastime, right after reading about Miley Cyrus.