Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Clickbait, Necessity or Nuisance?

Malindi Robinson

Search clickbait online and Google describes it as "(on the internet) content, especially that of a sensational or provocative nature, whose main purpose is to attract attention and draw visitors to a particular webpage."

We have all done it, clicked on some intriguing link on Facebook that sounds something like "12 Things Your Boyfriend Wants You To Know," only to end up at a random blog article that has absolutely nothing to do with that headline. We are being finessed for clicks. And what is driving this? Money of course. Advertisers are playing on the emotions of consumers - both positive and negative, to generate more clicks.

According to Kira Goldberg of the Columbia Journalism Review, only a small percent of people are actually reading the content that they are sharing on social platforms like Facebook and Twitter - thus the importance of an eye-catching, reaction-inducing headline.

A few years ago, the common practice was to leave certain information out of the headline, peaking interest - creating the curiosity gap. However, now it seems that content is often headlined with deliberately offensive, or troll-like tactics - banking on shares driven by appalled-reader fury and outrage. This trend isn't rapidly growing off of just a hunch either. We've got the numbers to prove that it works.

Posts with A Higher Emotional Value Get More Shares 
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We can now use technology to measure the emotional reactions to headlines. According to KissMetrics the Advanced Marketing Institute created a tool: the emotional value (EMV) headline analyzer. The availability of a free headline analysis tool is just more proof that writer have this down to an exploitative science. While we all enjoy a good laugh - but as Nilay Patel is quoted in Poynter stated, "most clickbait is disappointing because it's a promise of value that isn't met - the payoff isn't nearly as good as the reader imagines."

This conscientious manipulation of the public is unethical as it exploits both readers and writers. An article discussing clickbait on BBC's website mentions a study that found the popular magazine Slant pays their writers an additional $5 for every 500 clicks on their stories. We have to be diligent of the decline of valuable content and the rise of style over substance. 
Increased revenues can't be the driving factor behind what kind of articles are posted and how. It just isn't right. It's complete disregard for the intelligence of readers and is a waste of their time. 

Not everyone has negative views of clickbaiting, some feel that the majority of content labeled as such is done so erroneously. That the backlash is an overreaction and misinterpretation of the direction journalism, especially digital, is going in. But it's quite difficult, in my opinion, to ignore its negative effects. While the industry as a whole has not fallen victim to this practice, it's the responsible thing to do to analyze areas for improvement and hold ourselves accountable to the ethics we claim to uphold and the work that we publish as journalists. 

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