Every evening, Brian Ronaghan, Marketplace’s director of product, sends an internal email listing stories that have been driving the most digital traffic on the Marketplace website. Recently, a 2011 story about what the Bible has to say about a cashless society cracked the top 10. We asked Ronaghan to explain his investigation into why this story started spiking online after almost nine years.
“So first I tracked the source of this story,” Ronaghan said. “Pretty much all of it is coming from search engines.”
Next, Ronaghan figured out the search queries people were using to find the story, things like “cashless bible society” and “what does the Bible say about a cashless society?” He also found that these topics were trending on Google in early July.
“People are searching this like crazy, but again, I’m really not sure why,” Ronaghan said. “So I started looking at the related searches, and that’s where I start to see something pretty interesting.”
Ronaghan found that whenever people search “cashless society,” they often search “bible cashless society” too. “But what they aren’t always searching, what’s new, is ‘Dave Ramsey cashless society,’” Ronaghan said. (Ramsey is a radio host and financial adviser.) “I take a look at the search results to ty to figure out what’s going on, and the first thing that comes up is a Snopes article about whether Dave Ramsey did or did not warn about the evils of a cashless society.”
Ronaghan found a Facebook post that was supposedly written by Ramsey saying that a cashless society would give the government power to do things like block transactions and track accounts. Ronaghan said Ramsey did not post this, but it went viral nonetheless.
In his research, Ronaghan also found that major news outlets were writing about how the pandemic is causing many businesses to go cashless. From there, Ronaghan formed a rough hypothesis as to why Marketplace’s 2011 story was drawing so much traffic.
“I’m seeing three things,” Ronaghan said. “One, the pandemic is making businesses go cashless. Two, media outlets are covering the fact that businesses are going cashless and asking the question, well, what does that mean? And then three, people are posting a lot on social media about this.”
These three things, Ronaghan said, likely have people searching “cashless society” a lot more. “And I know that when people search for ‘cashless society,’ they think, ‘Hmm, the Bible said something about cashless societies,’” Ronaghan said. “Which is how they get to our interview with a Bible expert, which answers the question in a great way and also has a really fun ‘Star Wars’ metaphor.”
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