How Clickbait is Destroying Journalism

Clickbaits have existed for centuries. Those Victorian magazines had clickbaits and, now, we have our own version of online clickbaits. Publishing web articles with the right kind of clickbait headlines would earn you millions of dollars. However, Journalism professors and ethical players in the publishing and media industry agree that clickbaits are destroying journalism.

Well, the truth is more than that: Clickbaits have the potential to ruin how we think. So, before it’s too late, make sure to educate yourself about clickbaits and take the necessary precautions.

How does a clickbait work? How can it destroy journalism and how we think?

1. Our brain chemicals are affected and changed by clickbaits

When we like, share, or comment on social media, our brain releases dopamine, a neurochemical that’s known as “reward” chemical. This also happens when we click on a headline that truly sparks our curiosity.

A clickbait serves this purpose, and it serves it well because we “want to believe” that there is something valuable behind that tantalizing headline. This anticipation alone floods the brain with dopamine.

2. Our brain becomes “addicted” to clickbait headlines

Over time, our brain craves the dopamine that is released after clicking clickbait headlines. This explains why people are so “addicted” viewing those silly cat and dog videos. The more they watch those videos, the happier they feel. The same also happens when we click those clickbait headlines.

However, psychologists warned us that dopamine doesn’t cause addiction. Note that I use these parentheses to express that it’s a metaphor.

According to David J. Ley PhD in Psychology Today,

“Dopamine’s role in pleasure and reward is that it helps your brain to recognize “incentive salience.” This means that it’s like a little red flag to your brain, saying “hey, pay attention, this is about to feel good, and you want to remember this so that you can do it again.” A critical issue here is that a lack of dopamine doesn’t make the experience feel less good.”

So, regardless of whatever it is that makes us feel “addicted” clickbaits, we should acknowledge and recognize the “danger” of clickbaits to our mental health and productivity level.

3. Clickbaits prevent us from creating our own mental pictures

Many listicle articles use clickbait headlines. Moreover, those with Buzzfeed models are likely to use animated GIF images. While these images look cute and can be quite expressive, these images are meant to “shout” than merely illustrate.

Researchers in Teaching English as Foreign Language (TEFL) find that the right visual aids and visualization would help learners to retain new concepts better and longer. Thus, when a listicle article comes with its own “shouting” GIF image, it spoon feeds readers with that specific mental image, without providing sufficient room for readers to come up with their own mental model. Over time, those GIFs “numb” our mind.

4. Many articles with clickbait headlines don’t deliver any substance

Yep, many of those listicle articles with clickbait headlines serve no purpose other than to entertain us. Do you think that article about “77 Naughty Dogs with Weird Faces” would make us a smarter, more skilled, and more informed person? I can guarantee you that it wouldn’t.

But if you read this article “The Youngest of the Little Rock Nine Speaks About Holding Onto History,” most likely you’d be a little bit more informed than yesterday.

Also, check out this article “The Unlikely Medical History of Chocolate Syrup” sounds like a clickbait, apparently it’s a legit article published by uber-prestigious the Smithsonian Magazine. Way to go, Smithsonian!

5. Clickbaits make us more emotional instead of more objective

Clickbaits feed our emotional needs, instead of intellectual deep-thinking needs. When reading clickbait articles has become a habit, we’d be accustomed to superficial and no-substance emotional reading. In other words, reading emotional-based articles train our subjective “emotional brain,” instead of our evolved objective, intelligent human brain.

For the lack of sassier term: Clickbait makes you dumber

6. Many clickbait articles are the antithesis of objective journalism

It goes without saying. Objectivity is the most important pillar in journalism. According to The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, the number one element of journalism is “its obligation to tell the truth.” In other words, any piece of work that doesn’t tell the truth or not objective is a piece of garbage.

And many clickbait articles fall into this “garbage” category. I’m not generalizing here because some reputable publications have started to use headlines that sound more “clickbaity” to compete with “sleazy” clickbait articles.

7. When reading clickbait articles has become a habit, journalistic articles wouldn’t be able to keep our “craving” brain satisfied (journalism destroyed)

Listicle and clickbait articles are proofs that readers prefer “fast food” than “gourmet” articles. It shows that the power has shifted from print to web-based publications, as people’s reading attention span diminishes online and reading listicles are faster and easier to digest.

Imagine you’re in a subway train on the way to work and you’re standing wobbly because n more seats are available. Would you prefer reading a listicle like this “10 Ways to Help You Going to the Bathroom Naturally” written by a health blogger or a long-form health article “New Study Offers Support for Prostate Testing” published by one of the most prestigious newspapers? Most likely, you’d read the former as the listicle structure makes it easier to absorb when your focus isn’t undivided.

At last, due to the low barrier of entry to join the ranks of citizen bloggers and self-professed pundits, “citizen journalism” is now available to anyone with or without professional journalism training. In other words, the writing world has become a “melting pot” of all kinds of article writers, including clickbait articles.

While pure, professional, and ethical journalism is still necessary to deliver objective news and analyses in this exceeding chaotic world, the emergence of clickbait articles can’t be taken lightly. Elite journalism hasn’t died entirely, and we should not let it die at all.

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