Clickbait: An Internet plague that should be exterminated

One of the most talked about viral marketing trends is clickbait. In essence, clickbait is a headline that is purposely vague or sensational to make readers curious, luring them in to click on the link, generating more traffic and thus more revenue. This marketing scheme has become rampant—you’ve probably seen some of these shameless titles on social media. Like me, your interest was piqued, and you clicked; then, you were most likely disappointed by the bland result, tricked into believing that it might enhance your world. In all likelihood, we’ve all fallen victims to the power of clickbait, which is like a gambling addiction where we’re hoping for the next lucky streak.

I find it frustrating to see such headlines attract so many views. Sites such as Buzzfeed and Upworthy receive millions of hits each day because they’ve mastered the dark art of writing clickbait. After a quick perusal of these sites, however, I found it easy to notice patterns in the headlines. Many of them deliver audacious promises that your mind will be blown after reading the article. Others tout that your faith in humanity will be restored. Some even go for the accusatory, where you might unintentionally be part of committing some wrong. But the one that takes the cake is the “curiosity gap.” This is a technique inherent in all clickbait titles, entailing a perfect balance of information and mystery, tantalizing readers to click on the link.

Every day, Upworthy “journalists” spawn numerous “articles” by extracting random content from third-party sources and slapping on a clickbait headline, consequently garnering millions of views. Here’s an example of a video of a college student who decided to take leftover food from his college campus dining halls and donate it to the needy. Upworthy took in the content and plastered on the headline:  “The coolest thing this guy did in college had nothing to do with classes or tests (or parties).” Then the author wrote three sentences and attached the video. Bam. That was it.

Needless to say, clickbait titles work, and this list of Upworthy’s greatest hits proves it. Shockingly, the site’s most popular article hauled in 17 million hits. In only the month of August this year, there were 51 unique visitors, and 124 million pages views. What also tags along with these mind-boggling statistics is the fat cash filling up the wallets of the Upworthy staff. But is this revenue well deserved? I don’t think so. I certainly don’t like to waste my time clicking on an alluring link only to be disappointed by how useless it was, and I suspect you may feel the same. Sites like Upworthy lead us like sheep, manipulating us into generating revenue for them.

I don’t like clickbait. Traditional media don’t like them. Heck, Facebook doesn’t like them either, now that it has taken the initiative to reduce spammy content on news feeds. I say we should follow Facebook’s example and ignore these ridiculous headlines. The more clicks an article receives, the more popular it becomes. To reduce these clickbait giants into squirming, helpless worms, we must resist the urge of taking the bait and simply NOT CLICK. We consumers control the supply and the demand. You may think that a measly tap on your trackpad is harmless, but in reality it’s contributing to what shows up on our feeds: there are invisible algorithms that use our clicks to monitor what we do in the Internet, and those algorithms shape the media. Sometimes, a click can be mightier than a sword.

To toot our own horn, Graded’s Talon does not use of such headlines. Nonetheless, for the sake of amusement and evil hypocrisy, here are some “refurnished” Talon headlines à la clickbait:

These three reasons about bears will change the way you look at them. FOREVER.

You won’t believe that these are the newest viral trends among teenagers.

You’ll never guess that this one secret can let high-school students catch some more z’s.

I thought it was just a toy robot. But then I saw this amazing demonstration that blew me away.

You might have thought being part of a community service would make you feel better. But watch what this person has to say.