clickbait: an eye-catching link on a website which encourages people to read on
If you scroll down your reader, or feed for any social media platform for that matter, you will no doubt be inundated with catchy, hyperbolic, and inflammatory headlines. They will probably catch your eye, and you will probably click on them. You know the ones I’m talking about –
That BuzzFeed list, The 50 Absolute Sexiest Things Ryan Gosling Did In 2013.
That Thought Catalog article, I Look Down On Young Women With Husbands And Kids And I’m Not Sorry.
That YouTube video, Worst Twerk Fail EVER – Girl Catches Fire!
You get the idea, right? Those headlines that are just gagging for you to click on them? Yep, those ones. Isn’t that what headlines should be, though? Catchy things that grab your attention and make you want to read on? When we live in an environment where media outlets are saturated with content, and readers have essentially become magpies, aren’t shiny headlines more crucial than ever? Is it necessarily clickbaitification? Is it not just clever titling?
Sure, ’50 Ryan Gosling pictures’ would be an accurate title, but it’s definitely not as attention grabbing as the one that BuzzFeed went for. That may be a bad example as I am liable to click on anything that mentions Ryan Gosling, regardless of the rest of the headline, but you get what I’m saying. It may also be a bad example because it’s a BuzzFeed list. Now, don’t get me wrong, I fucking love BuzzFeed. I literally – and I mean literally – spent tens of hours on it during the process of writing my thesis; any list that had anything to do with Mindy Kaling was infinitely more interesting than trying to weave core theory into my largely
fieldwork heavy anecdotal dissertation. BuzzFeed is a procrastination goldmine; it is busting with entertaining content that keeps your focus for two minutes before you find the next clickable headline. That’s pretty much the extent of it, though.
So, does where content is found play a role in determining whether or not we classify it as clickbait? If ‘I Look Down On Young Women…‘ was posted on The Guardian’s website as opposed to on Thought Catalog, would we take it more seriously? Would it be seen as a provocative way to generate discussion as opposed to a misguided way to drum up page views? Are we really judging blog posts by their curatorial umbrellas? When I go to a site like Thought Catalog or Elite Daily, I know exactly what to expect. I’m on those sites because I want topical, relatable and entertaining articles that pertain to my life as a ‘millennial’ (Jesus, I fucking hate that word). I’m not surfing The Debrief because I’m looking for bloody Pulitzer worthy writing; I just want a three minute distraction whilst the next episode of Pretty Little Liars loads.
This brings us to my next question – is it the quality of the content itself which dictates whether or not it will be seen as clickbait? Like I said, I don’t expect to be blown away by the quality of writing on these curation sites; as long as they’re coherent and don’t feature any truly appalling grammar, I’m not that fussed. The posts are predominantly there for entertainment value, not because they’re really going to affect your life in any sort of deep and meaningful way. Occasionally, you may find a gem of a piece that really makes you think, but, let’s face it, it’s pretty rare. You’re not going to find the next Khaled Hosseini writing meme fillied listicles on BuzzFeed.
Believe it or not, submissions on these sites have to be approved before they are published. You’d think producers and editors would set a higher standard of quality control, right? But, once someone’s clicked that catchy headline through to the article, they’ve got their page view – does the content even matter? Again, I don’t expect amazing content, but, thinking about it, isn’t that pretty shit? How disillusioned are we that we accept the content that is being consistently thrown at us? Why aren’t we demanding better? There are genuinely incredible writers out there who aren’t given the same platform or exposure as the sub-par list makers because our generation would rather look at ‘29 Cats That Have More Sex Appeal Than You‘ than read a beautiful piece of prose. Isn’t that sad?
Let’s be honest, whatever ‘clickbait’ is, we love it. We love those shitty articles and lists. We love that they are out there in abundance and we love that they relate to every possible aspect of our lives. It’s why we blog, isn’t it? To share our stories? To reach people and relate to them? I like to think my writing isn’t as barren as everything I’ve just slagged off, but maybe it is. Maybe someone needs to quality control me. Everyone deserves the right to express themselves, but are we so oversaturated with poor content that we’re starting to forget what good writing looks like?