Turning inner space into outer space

August 2, 2014

Readers are wising up to clickbait tactics

For many websites, revenue from advertising depends on getting as many visitors as possible. The higher the numbers, the more they than can charge for their ads.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that we’ve been subjected to a phenomenon called clickbait. These are the linked headlines you see on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere that present tantalizingly unanswered questions — the idea being that many people won’t be able to resist the temptation to click so they can read the rest of the story.

Here are a couple of examples I just made up:

“You’ll never guess what crazy thing Kim Kardashian did last weekend”

“Seven secrets about kittens that will blow your mind”

Newspapers and magazines have long tried similar tactics to lure people into buying their product. There is no clicking involved, so these types of headlines are known as teasers.

But the Internet clickbait really does seem a lot more shameless, likely because there is so much more competition.

It’s reached a point where there is a backlash of sorts brewing from readers who are tired of being manipulated. One such effort is a Twitter account called @SavedYouAClick, run by Jake Beckman.

When he sees clickbait on Twitter, he reads the story to get the gist of it. He then retweets the clickbait with a couple of words that save you the trouble of clicking and reading it yourself.

So if he saw one of my examples above, he might have reworded it like this: “Went skinny dipping RT @newsonaut You’ll never guess what crazy thing Kim Kardashian did last weekend.” The one about kittens might prove tricky for him.

Other Twitter users have followed suit, and saving us a click has become quite popular.

You might think what Beckman is doing is a harmless pastime, all in good fun. But one of the worst clickbait offenders, BuzzFeed, has raised the alarm in a lengthy article called Please Stop Saving Me A Click.

Charlie Warzel presents a number of reasons for why we shouldn’t be worried about clickbait, but here is his biggest:

But perhaps the best reason — especially if you happen to work in media — not to police clickbait is simple: Everyone’s at least a little bit guilty of trying to get others to care about their work (and why not?!).

Well, yes, as I said, clickbait is nothing new when you think about the teasers that have been vying for our attention at newsstands for decades.

Still, I can’t help but root for efforts such as @SavedYouAClick. They help readers by raising awareness about how the media works. And in a sense they also help the media by forcing writers to become better at their craft, and not resorting to lazy formulas.

Oh, and Beckman has an answer for BuzzFeed: “No. RT @BuzzFeed: Please Stop Saving Me A Click”

Clickbait comic from xkcd

Image Credit: xkcd