This viral inauguration boycott tactic won't work

Donald Trump's inauguration security, by the numbers
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Story highlights

  • People have been sharing a message on social media to affect inauguration ratings
  • That's not how TV ratings work -- but their other ways to show your support or dissent

(CNN)Think you can affect TV ratings for the inauguration by boycotting it or switching to other channels? It's not that easy, no matter how many people are sharing the tactic on social media.

Plenty of people are pledging to "boycott" the inauguration by not watching it, and one post that's making the rounds on social media suggests a slightly different strategy. In short, turn all of your TVs to another channel instead, thus bringing the PERCENTAGE of people watching the inauguration down.
Interesting. And, well, erroneous. That's not how television ratings work at all.

You gotta know how TV ratings work

Here's how it goes: Television viewership is measured through something called Nielsen ratings. Unless you are a designated "Nielsen family," your viewership really isn't taken into account.
There are about 40,000 Nielsen families across the country, accounting for about 100,000 viewers. These families record what they watch, either through viewer diaries or through boxes that communicate with their phone lines. This data is then extrapolated to cover a larger audience which is why a show like, say, "The Big Bang Theory" is said to have 7 million viewers even though there are only about 100,000 possible viewers to be counted.
Phew. So anyway, that's why this turn-your-TV-to-other-channels tactic won't work. Theoretically maybe it would, if you called up all 40,000 Nielsen houses and convinced them not to watch one of the biggest historical events in the nation. That sounds like a bad idea.

Here's where your viewership IS counted

If you want to make it clear that you are (or are not) watching the inauguration, you have a couple of options. Streaming is not one of them, because that technology is hard to quantify.
Your best bet would be to turn to (or away from) social media and online media.
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Let's say a site is doing a Facebook live at the inauguration. If you watch it or interact with the feed, your attention is counted in views and engagements. It's the same if you watch a video on a website, view a story about the inauguration or like, comment on and share posts about the inauguration.
So if you really want to show your support, watch, read and share where your participation is easily quantified. If you want to boycott, avoid interacting with videos, live social feeds and posts.
Remember, if you interact, even negatively, you are showing online content creators you are paying attention. Hate-watching a video still counts as watching a video, and putting a little "angry" face next to a post still sends the same message: People are interested in this, one way or another. Keep it coming.