Clickbait rules! Whether you like it or not, clickbait won’t go away from the internet because it is an age-old, proven method to appeal to our curiosity and emotion.
What is a clickbait? It is a type of news headlines that are written in such a way that it is hard for you not to click.
A typical example would read like, “Shocking! The five despicable reasons Cinderella is divorcing Prince Charming; number three will make you cry!”
Clickbait is powerful, stirring, and emotive; it often works because it exploits what makes us all human. Our brain has this natural tendency to pay more attention to the language that intrigues our inner inquisitiveness.
OK, so, what’s wrong with that, you may ask? Well, if journalism’s role is to inform us of what’s going on in our society with accurate information, a clickbait does the opposite.
In the following video, AJ will explain why clickbait headlines are misleading and how everyone — including established, internationally renowned news outlets — is using this technique to grab your eyeballs and entice your finger to tap the link.
There you have it. Put simply, clickbait headlines are deceptive and misleading because more often than not the articles don’t deliver what they have promised. Tricking the audience to make more money is . . . well, not cool, right?
If you would like to learn about the impact of this practice on the news industry, we can recommend the following two articles.
- Clickbait: The changing face of online journalism (BBC)
- Clickbait and metrics (Online News Association)
- Clickbait headlines appeal to our curiosity and emotion. They work because we are all human.
- But such headlines are deliberately created mostly for financial gains. Informing the public — which should be the primary goal of journalism — is not the purpose. We should be wary of such a practice.
- Clickbait headlines are inherently misleading and deceptive; we need to learn how to spot them and understand the techniques being used to trick us.
And yes, definitely there are many ways to write clickbait headlines. Like AJ said in the video, some typical ones:
- include overly sensational or exaggerated words;
- sound like listicles (list + articles);
- omit crucial facts or details.
But surely there are more, and we would like to know what type of language tricks you can identify.
Students will be able to 1) spot misleading news headlines by recognizing different language tricks, and 2) understand the potential dangers and social impact of misleading headlines.
Before the activity, it would be a good idea to remind the students that we often react to news stories (like, share, comment) after just reading the headlines (which is why clickbait is powerful).
- Find a few straightforward news articles with plain headlines. Topics that are not political or controversial would work better — such as health issues (in Hong Kong, I use articles like this report, for instance, and they work well).
- Divide the students into a group of 3–4. Assign each group a different news article.
- Have each group read the article, and ask them to come up with 2–3 different types of headlines for the story that would immediately attract their friends — i.e. have them create clickbait headlines.
- Have each group present their headlines (in my experience students have a lot of fun here). Hopefully, there will be a lot of scaremongering, exaggeration, superlatives, lists, exclamation marks, second-person pronouns, hyperbole, and so on and so forth (even made-up facts) — typical tricks and languages used in clickbait.
- Now ask the whole class how they have understood the news story from each group’s clickbait headlines. There will be a lot of misunderstanding and missing crucial information (unless your students are all masterful headline writers).
- Discuss the potential impact and dangers of getting information and news from clickbait headlines as a class.
Originally published at strapline.org on September 11, 2018.