See what I did there?
Come on. I’d never publish a post about the five worst people you’ll ever meet. I’m no meanyhead. But if I were a paid-by-the-page-view advertiser, I’d say anything to get you to come to my site, so I could possibly swipe your email address, your location, and especially your shopping habits and what advertisements you click on. That way, I could spam you to buy whatever I’m selling, and even sell your email address to other potential spammers.
Still, I tricked you. You clicked on the title because you were interested in what I had to say about who I think you should stay away from. If I were you, I’d feel a bit annoyed. I understand; I’ve been there. While I won’t do it, I’d be curious to see my stats if I shared only today’s title (with no accompanying text) on social media. I bet my hit count would be through the roof.
The title of this post is an example of something particularly insidious, making its rounds on the internet for several years now in a relentless, perpetual grab for your eyeballs (and, ultimately, your money — because if you think there is any other reason why these heartwarming/heartbreaking stories are published, you’re under-informed). It’s called clickbait, and it’s doing its part to eat away at our already-shaky trust relationship with online journalism. So what is clickbait? You likely already know, even if you don’t know you know. Clickbait is any link that manipulates, plays on the emotions, or is deliberately vague in order to arouse curiosity, with the purpose of duping you into clicking on it.
Ever see headlines like these? (Taken from a cursory cruise down my Facebook feed, ten minutes ago)
You get the idea. And the titles get wackier and more groan-worthy by the day, so it becomes a case of crying wolf: you become so desensitized to the sensational headlines, “real” news titles don’t faze.
My personal favorite among the groaners: “She Collapses After Every Single Race. When I Learned The Truth, It Broke Me.” It broke you? Seriously? Cripes. (The story behind the headline: “She” is a track athlete with multiple sclerosis. Her legs give out after every race, and sometimes she loses feeling. While it is most certainly a testament to this young lady’s incredible bravery in the face of a debilitating disease, did it break you in half to find out the reason why she collapses? I was rather uplifted — even inspired — by her courage, actually. But I resented the dupe all the same.)
Marketing groups are a savvy bunch. They know the power of human inquisitiveness; in fact, it’s a major construct of advertising. Get them to want to know more. It’s classic, and it works, and they know it. So, as is the American way, they ride it into the ground in order to suck every last nickel out of it before it slithers off into the graveyard of used-up ad techniques that worked until the customer base got wise to it.
And shame on Huffington Post — they’re one of the worst offenders (and there are many perps). Just today, I saw this headline: Seven Brothers Give Bride the Wedding Gift to End All Wedding Gifts. Out of pure disgust at walking open-eyed into another trap, I clicked on it. It was one of the sloppiest “choreographed” dude dances I have ever seen, and it’s ten interminable minutes long. This was the “wedding gift to end all wedding gifts”? Honestly — don’t take my word for it; judge for yourself.
I dunno. Maybe all this trickery doesn’t bother you. As you can no doubt tell, it bugs the heck out of me. In fact, I reached a point where I actually considered functioning as a spoiler on Facebook, commenting under each clickbait link exactly what the mystery was. Turns out, some cool people beat me to the punch.
On Twitter: HuffPo Spoilers
On Facebook: Clickbait Spoilers
Now this doesn’t mean that honest stories can’t have interesting titles. They can and do. The difference is that in a legitimate human interest link, there is some information given. No mystery. Two examples:
1. Clickbait — “A nine-year-old girl sells lemonade in her front yard to raise money for cancer research. What happens on her second day defies explanation.”
2. Honest — “A nine-year-old girl sells lemonade in her front yard to raise money for cancer research. Neighborhood bands together and donates $2,000.”
While the second headline might make you want to click over to read more, you at least have the “punchline” already. No tricks, no gimmicks.
All right. It’s done. Fortunately for you, all you’ve lost today is several minutes of your time, as this is a blog about nothing, and I have nothing to sell. The bottom line, though, is that if enough of us ignore clickbait, it’ll eventually go away.