Is Clickbait Really Such a Terrible Thing?

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By now, we’ve all heard of clickbait; of course, Wikipedia has a great definition. “Click-bait headlines add an element of dishonesty, using enticements that do not accurately reflect the content being delivered.” In other words, you click on something hoping to find out what was really going on with Area 51, but instead find a bunch of pop-up ads for embarrassing products. Then you curse at yourself for having fallen for the bait. And if you’d like to learn about making headlines, you might like to read: What Happens When You Write 25 Headlines Before Choosing One?

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But Why is Clickbait so Bad?

At this time of the year (December), there is clickbait everywhere. There are the Black Friday ads (still), Cyber Monday ads, the pre-Christmas sale ads promising fantastic gifts that make the man or woman of your dreams swoon, and so on. The negative part is that something is promised but not delivered. In the olden days, this was often called bait and switch. You click on something but something very different is delivered. Often, clickbaity headlines start with something like “You won’t believe your eyes when you see it!” And of course, there’s nothing you haven’t already seen before. Maybe a million times before. And yet we still get fooled. And by we, I count myself among the many who are fooled.

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Money-Making Schemes or Promising Tons of Followers

Sometimes a clickbait headline will promise that you’ll learn something nobody else knows about, and that something can make you a ton of money. On social media, it would be akin to an account promising you many followers if you’ll only share an article or retweet something. Nothing ever happens as a result of your sharing that article, however. You’d think we’d learn but we still get tricked all the time.

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Betteridge’s Law of Headlines

Betteridge’s law states that “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no“. Hence the question of whether Clickbait is really such a terrible thing would be a no. But it really is a yes! Why? It wastes our time, and we give our attention where we didn’t intend to. I’d argue that after a few of these we lose confidence in our own ability to judge what is true, and what isn’t. And what’s worse is it makes you lose faith in humanity. After being tricked by a clickbait-y headline, you may have to go and watch several videos of puppies.

amusement park photoWhat’s the Answer?

Maybe some social responsibility. At least on social media platforms, I’d prefer knowing I’m not going to come across millions of spammy articles. I wrote about this previously: Is Social Responsibility Part of Social Media? With the advent of artificial intelligence, shouldn’t finding fake news be a little easier? I’d think so.



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