OR – Jaw dropping clickbait facts that will shock you!
Whether it was the US election results, the death of Fidel Castro, or the imminent release of Rogue One, rebellion has been on my mind lately. And it got me thinking, what is there about communications that needs a revolution? Well, with the pervasiveness of fake news in a post-truth world, maybe the first battlefront needs to be the information we consume.
For the uninitiated – meaning today is your first day on the internet – clickbait is how we describe misleading or sensational headlines that rarely deliver on their promise. You’ve seen them a million times. Your online experience is littered with things that will shock, horrify or amaze you. You’d be surprised how often something your favourite celebrity wore, said or did that will rock your world.
What would motivate a headline writer to stoop so low? Because money. Because clicks = revenue. Advertising rates are determined by clicks. Whether you’re there for milliseconds or minutes, your clicks are registered and tracked with one purpose in mind – ad dollars.
The struggle is real
Unfortunately, clickbait’s appeal goes deeper than merely piquing our curiosity. Clickbait taps into our subconscious and evokes strong emotions. Positive or negative, the emotional responses are strong enough to make us click through, even if we know we’re being duped. To make things worse, the headlines are paired with equally outrageous or misleading images that also appeal to our baser instincts.
Have some fun with these headlines …
This isn’t to say that we are powerless, that we have no control. But enough of us are not being mindful of our clicks to keep this beast alive.
Where is the real news?
This is where it gets tricky. Because of the drive for revenue, even legitimate sites offer a bevy of clickbait disguised as content. They are often clearly labeled as advertisements, or paid content, but are seamlessly integrated into the site’s design that makes you wonder where you’re going. Once you point it out to someone, it becomes obvious, but they need to know what to look for.
This screenshot from CNN demonstrates how clickbait can hide in plain sight. Fortunately, most paid content is well below the fold, usually towards the bottom of the page.
How does the rebellion begin?
Starve the beast. We have to raise our clicking behaviour to a conscious level. Treat every click as if it were your last. Would you be proud of what was on your screen when they found your body? A grim picture, but an important one, because every time you indulge in a clickbait article, you give them the motivation to do it again, and again, and again. We need to be mindful of what we give our attention to, because once you add in some browser cookies, you get a potent retargeting mix of clicks and data to feed you similar headlines more often.
Now, if you’re reading this and have come this far, it’s likely that you’re already on board. What you need to do is share the information. Warn your coworkers, friends and families to avoid hyperbolic headlines, provocative imagery and questionable content.
The rebellion begins the instant you click away and engage with other content providers. Choose wisely.