We All Love A Bit Of Clickbait

I ask myself this daily, whilst procrastinating with my venti Starbucks mocha every morning, WHY DO YOU KEEP CLICKING, WOMAN?! I wish I could steer my undivided attention away from some of what I can only describe as drivel, to more pressing issues in life…or go back to a happier time when I was actually present in the land of the living.

What I’m referring to is my complicated and strained relationship with clickbait articles (although it’s not complicated or strained, at all – I love them and couldn’t be more content going click-happy in times of high stress).

If you don’t know what clickbait articles are, then you do – you just don’t know you do – because you have, most likely on more than one occasion, fallen victim to one of 21st century’s most addictive consumptions of news and content.

Clickbait (or a clickbait article) is:

“content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page.”

This is, more often than not, done by sensationalising headlines, omitting information from the headline so that readers deliberately have to flock to the article to read further, or appealing to short attention spans by structuring content within a list format (ergo…the listicle). Upworthy does a stellar job, to name just one of the culprits. The site gained attention as soon as it stepped on the social media scene using “tempting, vacuous, ‘curiosity gap’ headlines” – hence the pleasure, shortly followed by the guilt. Its understandable popularity has caused many other news outlets to also adopt some of these more controversial and almost laughable attempts to garner website traffic. BuzzFeed has followed suit with the majority of its journalism, although it still manages to keep some semblance of hard news with its marginalised BuzzFeedNEWS tab.

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 06.07.08

Screenshot of the BuzzFeed homepage – a clear-cut example of the continuous stream of clickbait articles on the left, paralleled with the BuzzFeedNEWS articles adjacent, in the middle-right

 

Why do we do it and voluntarily launch ourselves into an abyss of yellow journalism?

Dave Shilling, writer for thoughtcatalog.com makes the point:

“The Internet’s dirty secret is that all content exists within a very rigid binary structure. Something is either the best/coolest/most awesome/most wonderful thing ever, or it’s the worst thing ever/the dumbest thing ever/shitty/crappy/lame/wack/stupid. If an essay on the Internet doesn’t have a strong opinion in the title, or some salacious element to it, will anyone read it? …It’s a point no one seems to take seriously.”

In other words, firstly, we clearly lack control. And secondly, we are shamefully naive. We get lulled into a false sense of security with articles we assume will satisfy our consumer curiosities. But we can simultaneously anticipate that the article is a nothingness in which we are more than happy to waste the time away. The psychology behind our attraction to such pieces is actually quite logical. Jeremy Smith, writer on conversation optimisation and web psychology, breaks it down -> here. In short, it is all related to gravitating towards information your brain is already familiar with, finding comfort in subjects which reaffirm your interests, and the employment of some clever eye-catching tools.

Major news organisations have now cottoned on to the success of social media instant articles, like clickbait, and are capitalising on the way people are choosing to access their news and features. CNN has recently launched its new web video brand, Great Big Story, on Facebook, which will focus on “feel-good video content” for “globally curious 25- to 35-year-olds”, whilst expanding native advertising. Tech Insider appropriately calls it the “BuzzFeed killer” – although BuzzFeed being the top publisher on Facebook consistently for the past year and gaining with it, over two billion views in September alone, it may be a hard pedestal to push them off. Nevertheless, clickbait has undeniably given rise to a reinvention in storytelling but one which when we click, it won’t be so guilt-inducing.

Despite the popular demand of clickbait, journalists aren’t out of a job; we still crave hard-hitting journalism and love it when someone has something outlandish to say. As already stated, clickbait is the purveyor of procrastination, and long-term, I would much rather consume meaningful content. However, I foresee a shake up in digital news consumption in the near future. Where CNN have made the first steps, others will follow.

 

Feature BuzzFeed Image Credit: AJC ajcann.wordpress.com via Flickr

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