Have you ever anticipated being shocked by a scandal upon clicking on a news story, social media post, or YouTube video only to be disappointed? If you fell for a clickbait scheme due to a misleading title or fabricated thumbnail, you’re in good company; millions of people have fallen for the same thing.
But, why has it become so ubiquitous and what does it have to say about our media habits? According to one definition, clickbait is any media content whose primary purpose is to attract users via search engine results pages. Once in the page, we are attracted bt the title or picture, and click on it.
As the competition for media attention intensified, media sources had to come up with new ways to attract users, and this led to the emergence of clickbait. Clickbait headlines are often seen as a shortcut to getting clicks and engagement, but they can be deceiving and create negative perceptions of the platforms that published them. While some argue that users are now savvy enough to recognize clickbait, the practice still exists in a more subtle and sophisticated form than before that users might not now. In fact, some recognized that there is “good” and “bad” clickbait. The bad version refers to the spammy and misleading titles mentioned above. On the contrary, the good version, more unknown by users, suggests that clickbait if used correctly becomes an efficient practice to generate traffic on the sites.
Consider the following two examples. As you scroll through your news feed, you come across two different headlines. The first one reads “Elon Musk unveils the secrets to becoming a billionaire” and the second “The surprising way coronavirus has changed travel insurance”. Would you believe that one could come from a reputable source? If so, we bet it is the second one. That is the difference between bad and good clickbaits. Good clickbait uses alluring ways to grab the attention of the user in a more subtle way, for instance: “This is how…”, “The top …”. Moreover, it is notable that the reputation of the source also has a lot to do with the trustworthiness of the headline. In fact, the second example corresponds to an actual Forbes Magazine article. Remember, the source is usually a good indicator, but not always, of the reliability of online content.
Unfortunately, bad clickbait is the most used type of clickbait, in fact it has even landed in platforms like TikTok. A few days ago, a reporter described the number of clickbait TikTok’s that appeared on his feed after he stayed up all night scrolling through the app. One of his conclusions was that the platform encouraged clickbait. The decentralized structured and its algorithm incentivized people to make clickbait to get noticed. Rather than gradually building a fan base like on Twitch, TikTok live streamers must do whatever it takes to hook viewers. That is why some live streamers go to extremes in terms of content they post even harvesting pearls online or recording themselves while asleep.
Thus, clickbait is a controversial marketing tactic that says a lot about our social media usage. While it can be an effective way to generate traffic and engagement, it can also be deceptive, contribute to the spread of misinformation or annoy readers. Yet, we are easily influenced by our desire for instant gratification. When we see a productive or intriguing headline, we are often compelled to click on the link to find out more. Additionally, clickbait, either good or bad, are often designed to trigger an emotional response, such as anger, shock, or amusement, which can lead to sharing the content, sometimes without even reading it, and engagement on the media source. Thus, it depends on the type of the clickbait you encounter on your feed, we hope that with this small post you can better identify the good from the bad.