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How We’re All Falling for Clickbait – Hook, Line, and Sinker

It’s hard to avoid clickbait. We see it almost everywhere we go on the internet. Many articles that become popular on Facebook or other social media platforms brandish clickbait-y titles like flash bombs. In the distraction of each title fighting for our attention, we click through, more than a little dazed and confused. Our clicks, however, are pretty weighty. Each click is monetized and clickbait titles, as advertised, generate a lot of clicks.

It seems everyone has a different definition of clickbait. Even though Buzzfeed claims they don’t use clickbait, many would cite them as a harbinger of the popular titling method. Buzzfeed claims they view clickbait as a lack of fulfillment; a title presents an expectation that the article doesn’t fill. I definitely think that’s a major aspect of clickbait; those articles are never as life-changing as they promise to be.

However, listicles and GIF-heavy posts also fit into a general definition of clickbait. These posts seem superficial, lacking the research and insight attributed to “good journalism.” And yet, they’re outrageously popular. Bryan Gardiner discusses the appeal of listicles and potato chip articles in his analysis of analysis of analysis of analysis of analysis of analysis of analysis of analysis of analysis of analysis of analysis of analysis of clickbait. Lists are easier for our brain to gobble up because they are specially parceled into bite-size sections. When we read a title that promises “7 Ways to Remove Backhair You’ve Never Considered,” we think “Yes, I can devote 2 minutes of my life to this endeavor” and we click.

Anyone who has written for the web knows that, while quicker and easier to produce, publishing this kind of content leaves a bad taste in the mouth. It forces us to consider the role that we play in the changing face of journalism.

We obviously can’t deny the omnipresence of clickbait. Similarly, we can’t deny the fact that good ol’ fashioned journalism also has to compete with clickbait media. As Gardiner explains, lessening the amount of times our brain receives an award increases the value of the award. Therefore, every unfulfilling article adds to the build up of dopamine we’ll get if a clickbait article is ever satisfying. So good or bad, the clickbait legacy lives on and gains power.

Why should we make anything good then? Why should we create thoughtful, well-researched articles if they are going to fall by the wayside of listicles and hacks?

Journalism is being forced to adapt in the increasing the clickbait-centric digital discussion space. In Chi Luu’s rather literary analysis of clickbait and broader yellow journalism, she highlights the practices which span from online to print journalism. Across the board, headlines employ headlines with connotation-heavy vocabulary. Each word is chosen to generate emotional response in the reader, which compels you to click. Luu explains that clickbait headlines, rife with emotional triggers, also serve to establish a relationship between the reader and the article. She describes headlines as “a story in themselves.”

And this story is far from over.

Clickbait, popular among online and print articles, runs rampant on video platforms like youtube. In fact, clickbait titles are so popular there that content creators have taken to providing clickbait disclaimers in their titles (Think: I’m the Virgin Mary reincarnated and I have proof ***NOT CLICKBAIT***). As clickbait rounds out third (video media), it hits a home-run of dominance on titling.

In a world where clicks lead to paychecks and titles build a legacy, it’s not hard to feel overwhelmed. How can I, a simple clicker, fight back against clickbait? I try to be conscientious with my clicks. I consider sources and chew on a headline for a bit before I click on it. If a title does interest me but comes from an unreliable source, I’ll search its keywords on a site I do trust. In general, we all need to arm ourselves with a bit of media literacy. Consider where it’s coming from (the source), what it seems to be saying (the title), and why you might want to click on it. If your response is emotional, you’re likely nibbling on some clickbait.

Rachel is a senior English and Writing Arts double major at Rowan University. She also has minors in Women's & Gender Studies and Creative Writing along with concentrations in Publishing & New Media and Honors. She is the Senior Editor of Avant Literary Magazine as well as being in charge of the Her Campus chapter at her school. Rachel works as both a tour guide and a writing tutor on campus. She is big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but not the patriarchy.               
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