The Art of ClickBait
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Clickbait : Stuff on the internet that misleads people to content that is false or of low quality or irrelevant for monetary gains.
Some say clickbait is just clever marketing. Some call it a disgrace. I find clickbait funny because of it’s ridiculous claims. We’ve all been a victim of this phenomenon, knowingly or unknowingly. Sensational headlines in news articles, catchy Youtube thumbnails, shocking social media posts — these are some examples of clickbait. I feel sad to observe that clickbait is slowly creeping up on Medium as well. Top publishers and publications on Medium are ruthlessly using sensationalist titles to a point that clickbait has now become an art and a necessity to get attention. This is unfortunate in my opinion. Let’s consider some examples.
Notice how every title sounds sufficiently generic and promises something grand like age-reversal or secret to success. From my experience, the victims are usually the ambitious, curious people with a thirst for knowledge. Their ears perk up when they hear someone say “This is the secret knowledge to achieve your dreams. Listen up.” What I feel sad about is that these articles are mostly full of worthless semi-motivational fluff. And what I feel worried about is that the publisher of the first article above — Benjamin Hardy — has 120K followers at this point — one of the biggest publishers. This begs the question — how dumb actually are Medium users? How smart or self-aware do you have to be to click on a promising title, read a bunch of bullshit and realize “Wait a minute…I haven’t actually learned anything by reading this article. Age-reversal is impossible and there is not secret to success. Hmm…” ?People are getting scammed, man. Not for money but attention.
The plight of an exploding Internet is that everybody wants your attention. That’s the currency of the future. Almost every platform and product out there is in an attempt to leverage the human psychology and manipulate your eyeballs and thoughts to their advantage — Marketing and Advertising.
The Good Side
If you have really valuable content then clickbait is a good way to get more eyeballs on your content. But the ethical way of doing it is to include a clickbait title/image that is very much relevant. This is not just ethical but also more sensible for an intellectual audience. You can only trick them so many times. Too much clickbait leads to lack of trust. But I’m no expert on this. As long as people are fine with clickbait, it works.
The Bad Side
As a consumer, it depletes your time and mental resources without your knowledge. Once you click and start reading/watching, you sort of accept the state and keep ingesting the content. You don’t question it’s credibility often. And that’s the problem. That’s literally why it’s called Click*Bait*.
The Ugly Side
Let’s be honest. Clickbait sells. It’s easy to clickbait someone who has no particular reason for browsing the internet. The casual surfer has no agenda so he/she will fall prey to pretty much anything fancy. If you have an agenda and if it’s important, you’ll most likely question the actions & consequences before spending your time & mental energy. It’s just like in real life. Somebody who comes to the shop for a soap will find it irrelevant if you try to dazzle him with a shoe. “Bitch, I’m looking for a soap. Not a shoe. GTFO.” But a window-shopper with lots of money(attention) to spend can be tricked into buying a shoe that will solve all her fitness issues. The sad part is that most people on the internet don’t even realize that they’re the rich window-shoppers and that their attention is worth something.
Future of ClickBait
In a growing marketplace(internet) where tons of products(content) are readily available to the consumer(you), the competition for attention is fierce and inevitable. My hunch is that blatant clickbait will loose it’s vigour over time just like the television ads of fat-burners in the 90s. As people start waking up to reality, clickbait will also evolve to become more convincing and undetectable. This is like a never-ending cat and mouse game between trust and deception. In a world full of trustworthy products, a deceptive fraud will be beneficial(short-term). In a world full of deceptive frauds, a trustworthy product will be beneficial(long-term).
What content creators need to do
Clickbait is power. Those who wield it must have the right intentions and should gauge the user experience in a smart way. Tricking people is not sustainable. Unless they’re dumb enough to fall for it every time without realizing it. Clickbait is a sign of disrespect to the audience. Don’t take them for granted. Give it like it is. Don’t be needy.
What content consumers need to do
Find another way to navigate the clickbait-contaminated Internet. Get better at recognizing false promises. Develop a healthy skepticism. When someone says “Here’s the secret.” you should counter it with a “Wait But Why”. What is the intent behind? Am I being manipulated here?
Subscribe and trust only genuine internet-ers. Unsubscribe from tricky clickbaitey creators. If we all do this at a mass level, creators who use clickbait will be weeded out and only genuine quality content creators will get our attention. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. So train yourself to detect clickbait and avoid it if you value your time and attention. Always check authenticity of content. Let nobody trick you.
It’s time to regain control of our attention.