The idea behind clickbait is nothing new. Journalists have been trying to sell you with their headlines for as long as there have been newspapers. But there’s a big difference between a New York Times headline, or a headline for the Onion for that matter, and the clickbait headlines that are now clogging up Facebook and other social media and the difference is intention.
In both cases the headlines are not written by the person who wrote the article or made the featured content but in journalism there is supposed to be a factual, thoughtfully written story that the headline writer is trying to draw your attention to, whereas with clickbait it doesn’t matter at all where you’re being routed, just so long as you click.
There are several problems with clickbait in my opinion. For one thing it represents a huge downgrade in the quality of the content the reader is directed to and since people will read anything and are incredibly easy to influence, we have to be careful what we’re telling them is important. If they’re being directed to a thoughtful New Yorker article great, but if they’re being directed to funny cat videos, articles about how to be more sexy, or shocking and often horrific imagery well, it’s just not creating the kind of society I want to live in.
Another thing that’s dangerous in my opinion is that bloggers are now writing the content and creating the headline, and are able to track which headlines get more clicks. This means that content is being generated from the headline or with the headline in mind and it’s all rigged to get the maximum number of clicks. I’ve had several arguments with bloggers about this.
They say that it doesn’t matter how good your blog is if no one reads it and so you should stuff keywords and phrases like “this one incredible trick I found” to entice people to click. I understand this point and agree that it sucks if there’s good content that no one reads but I argue that if you start by stuffing your headlines with key words and it leads to more clicks you will eventually find yourself on a slippery slope where you’re shaping content to get clicks, thereby letting yourself be led by the reader.
It’s better to write the best content you can and try to promote it without resorting to clickbait. I feel this way about newspapers, television news programs, publishing companies, radio stations, pretty much all forms of media. For decades they’ve been letting the consumer decide what is of interest and the result is news without real news, just heartwarming fluff, fear mongering public safety stories, celebrity gossip and idiot banter.
The preponderance of clickbait is just the latest example of a turn away from thoughtful journalism toward giving the people anything and everything they may want in the desperate hopes that their behavior will become one hundred percent predictive so we can give them what they want before they even know they want it thus creating an air tight and perfectly inane economy of lobotomized idiocy.
Thank goodness the New Yorker, New York Times, Washington Post and a few noteworthy others have resisted this trend. So far.