Remember when newspapers had actual content writers, copy editors and proper headlines? Spell checkers? You do?
Me too. And I miss those days. I used to amuse myself at times trying to find the odd misspell or grammatical error, because I was a nerdlinger, and errors were rare enough to make the game worth the while. Overall, I really appreciated a cleverly turned phrase, an apt summation, a seductive call to ‘read all about it!’ and I relished the tiny print request to (continue reading on page …. ). I’d even suffer the frustration and indignity of wrestling a broadsheet into submission, when my interest had been piqued.
Tabloids took all the fun out of both of those exercises.
Now you can feast your eyes on the clickbait genre; titles that are designed to manipulate or coerce readers into entering their site. Today’s online version of the Weekly World News.
With the death of old school journalism in recent years, and the plethora of online sites vying for your ‘click’ to entice advertiser dollars, clickbait titles have become the go-to tactic to attract curious – yet oddly intellectually lazy – eyes.
Why bother researching social inequity, when you’ve just clicked on the cutest video of homeless people? Or examining the difference between available political parties when this snappy cartoon lays it all out for you? Have you flexed your ethical and moral values because you watched a video of a kid standing up to bullies? Surely you’ve done your part, and now our faith in humanity can be restored.
And in a philosophical sense, isn’t society always in doubt as to the state of humanity? It can be a Sisyphean task, keeping the faith. ”You won’t Believe what happens next” challenges our cynicism and belief systems, and dares us to dream, one more time, that there are wonders and miracles to be found. All you have to do is click this link ….
I know there are a lot of intelligent people out there. I’ve met some, and, based on the spectrum, there must be many more in the general population. But, sadly, in any large group, there are those who somehow managed to fail upward through the education system and most of their formative years, neatly bypassing all attempts to be enlightened. It happens. Read the comments on nearly every article, post or blog on any site and subject deemed controversial – politics, sex, climate change, equal rights. You’ll be stunned at how many very uninformed and uneducated commentators feel the need to add their poorly digested bile to a discussion and set the LiBtArDs straight.
It would be sooo easy to write off clickbait as the natural habitat of those easily manipulated and gullible people. But they are not the only ones to fall into the trap; clickbait appeals to our sense of disbelief. It asks – dare you read this? How strong are your views? – while simultaneously appealing to our innate desire to know what is in the future. What happens next? Ah, wouldn’t we all like to have a heads up on that!
But clickbait is no crystal ball. If anything, the majority of Upworthy’s maudlin videos fall into the need to hear a little good news for a change. Buzzfeed’s listicles and how-to’s attempt to find meaning in meaningless exercises attempting to smooth the way through meaningless everyday tasks. Celebrity websites exist to glorify celebrities and those who wish to attain celebrity through sensationalism and sexy side boob glimpses … making the mundane into rumour-worthy chatter you can share on social media, whether the material has basis in reality or not.
And it works. Most people are busy enough trying to get through their day without too much distress, hanging on to whatever brings in the money necessary for them to make it through yet another day, while being bombarded with doom and gloom on every side. People are not meant to be flooded with a constant stream of new data; our brains prefer to be fed chunks of necessary information, with just the odd spike of spicy novelty to keep things interesting.
I’m not saying that clickbait is an insult to our collective intelligence. No, I’m saying it’s a necessary evil, designed to ease the pressure off an already strained valve. Without clickbait, cat videos, games, listicles and recipes, the strain of modern life would likely blow the top off of our heads.
I’m just saying that it’s a bit much to ask readers to take a publication seriously that depends solely on clickbait headlines. And why would you even try? It’s akin to walking through the midway at the Ex, in the days when the carnival barkers used to pull in the rubes with promises of the “Gorilla Gorilla Gorilla GURL!” or LobsterBoy. Escapist fun in limited quantity – nauseating as a steady diet.
Shock tactics and clickbait achieve the immediate measurable goal – quantifiable clicks of attention, attracting advertisers to invest. Long term respect and dignity come from actual, informative, content, which entertains on a higher level than titillation.
For many publications, the clicks are enough.