Monday, December 4, 2017

Sharing Without Caring: The Trouble With Clickbait

Janie Dulaney

It all started a year or two ago when you were scrolling through Facebook one afternoon, when suddenly you come across an article that someone you barely talked to in high school, but are still Facebook friends with shared, "Why the Notebook 2 is being filmed in Akron, Ohio: Ryan Gosling speaks!" No way, you think to yourself, could it be? When you click on it, it takes you to a low budget, low quality website with a plethora of ads that looks like your 15-year old brother could have set it up. No Notebook being filmed in Akron in this lifetime. Fast forward to the end of 2017. We'd survived the year of "fake news" but are still battling with it everyday as journalists. Obviously, you know that articles like that are clickbait, and you can easily laugh to yourself while scrolling to find your weekly horoscope, but what happens when news organizations themselves are using catchy and sometimes a little misleading of headlines to get views? Where are the ethics in that? 

When the New York Times columnist published his "Brunch is for Jerks" opinion piece way back in 2014, he was met with tons of engagement and shares, and garnered a lot of attention from other media, including a cook off between two chefs and a humorous pushback from Bustle.  The use of "trolling" their readers, as Kira Goldenberg described it for the Columbia Journalism Review, is a more high profile way to "bait" readers into "clicking" on your story. In other words, sophisticated clickbait. If young people who love to travel to their nearest First Watch on Sunday mornings and drink kale tonics while eating an oatmeal bowl see that their Aunt Shelby shared an article called "Brunch is for Jerks" on their Facebook feed, the possibility of sharing it with a response of their own is probably pretty high-- even without reading it themselves.

In fact, studies show that an astonishing "59 percent of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked: in other words, people appear to retweet news without ever reading it." This means, when a journalists picks a headline for a story about peoples bias towards certain demographics of voters that reads "Should Single Women be Allowed to Vote?" it will certainly create buzz. Things like this go viral for a few reasons, but one is worth noting in it's relevance to this situation; if someone sees this, gets angry, and shares it, the author can always defend itself. If an article is simply using a catchy tagline that only shares one part of the story, the author can clap back. After all, it's the person who failed to actually read the story's fault, right?

Sharing an article about brunch may seem harmless, sure it's clickbait technically, but who is it really hurting in the scheme of things? Well, in this day and age where the very utterance of the world journalism sends many random family members at your family reunion through a tailspin ranging from low job security to an untrustworthy profession, it is quite simple. Journalism is taking many hits from the outside, can it really afford to be criticized for cheapened headlines and page-view desperation?

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