Understanding How “Clickbait” Articles Are Used in the Modern Day

Written by Ryan Masse

(Several examples of links that are commonly found at the bottom of online articles all across the web.
Image Credit: ©BBC.com)

There is a good chance that at one point or another, you have probably said or heard someone say, “Google it” when the answer to a question is uncertain. In the age of the internet, the ability to share and explore content, news and any other unknown information has become readily available and accessible at our fingertips.

 However, the quality of this information may not always be accurate, or even correct at all.

Since its inception in 2006 by blogger Jay Beiger, “clickbait” has gone on to earn its own definition. According to Merriam-Webster, the term clickbait can be defined as “something (such as a headline) designed to make readers want to click on a hyperlink especially when the link leads to content of dubious value or interest.” 

Despite being a fairly recent term, the concept of falsely spreading misleading information to garner viewership and generate revenue is one that dates back hundreds of years.

In the 1830’s, Benjamin Day of the New York Sun decided to not only cut costs of his papers, but incorporate sensationalist stories of creatures inhabiting the moon. This decision led to mass sales of his paper, and started a trend that would be followed and evolve for the next several centuries to come.

(Published in 1835, articles known as “The Great Moon Hoax” were shared to the New York Sun, depicting strange and otherworldly creatures that inhabited the moon. Image Credit: ©History.com)

While the existence of mythical moon creatures can be easily debunked today, the possibility that clickbait presents today can lead to much more deception. This is especially the case, as countless websites, organizations, news journals and other sources utilize clickbait to their advantage, leveraging the public through eye grabbing headlines in order to boost personal profit. This is done strategically, as credibility and reputability is sacrificed in order to maximize the percent of click through rates (CTR) on certain sites. 

News outlets and organizational entities are not the only ones benefiting from purposefully misleading an audience to enhance their revenue. In fact, multiple celebrities and notable public figures have also been responsible for directing those who follow them to certain websites for personal gain.

Rapper 50 Cent, and comedians Martin Lawrence and Tommy Chong have all previously used “domain spoofing” tactics, which is a form of hiding where a link that is shared actually sends those who click on it to. Ultimately, these three are among other celebrities who have used their verified status to net themselves thousands of dollars. 

As already mentioned, clickbait serves the purpose of generating news through faulty information. This is done to increase page views, the number of social shares, and ultimately, revenue. While experiencing clickbait may be inevitable, there are ways to identify and avoid these types of articles before clicking on them.

Many articles will utilize aspects of sensationalism and exaggeration in their headlines, attempting to draw readers in before they realize what they’re clicking on may not be factual. Clickbait is also highly prevalent on social media, as this serves as free, marketable content that can be mistakenly clicked on. 

Although these are only a few examples of identifying clickbait, understanding its implications and becoming aware of some of the identifiers of clickbait can be instrumental in helping online users navigate the web. It is without question that the term itself is nearly guaranteed to warrant a knee jerk reaction, with people either in favor for or against clickbait’s usage on the Internet. 

While there are many in the news and marketing industries that use clickbait to their advantage, there are plenty of dangers surrounding its usage. In an always adapting world that has seemingly gone more digital than ever, those who conduct online research want to do so knowing that the sources they visit can be valid. 

When an organization uses clickbait tactics to generate more traffic to their page, they lose credit as a reputable source, and damage the perception of similar organizations in their industry who produce reliable and factual information. 

We live in an age where profit and shock value has become more important than honest and fact-based information. If this pattern continues, journalism and reporting can be led down a slippery slope to the point where fiction becomes fact, and no source is truly trustworthy.

(The graph pictured above indicates how clickbait articles use certain themes and formats to generate interest and online clicks. Image Credit © peppercontent.com)