Clickbait

or Four Reasons Why Mark Doesn't Understand Click Bait. Number Three Will Shock You!

I think my new favourite site on the internet is Clickhole, the Onion's satire of clickbait sites. Clickbait isn't something new, per se, but in recent years it's replaced spam as one of the worst things about day to day internetting for loads of reasons, the biggest being that it just no matter how hard you try it still permeates through the internet seeping like sewage into every nook and cranny there is, toxifying everything else and making it stink like shite.

Clickbait is stuff that compels you to click on the articles, which normally have very little substance, via sensationalist headlines designed specifically to be shareable and grab your attention so you click out of curiosity, almost like internet rubbernecking. They're normally either articles based around images, gifs or just Youtube videos that have either been trending on Twitter for a while, but mostly they almost all without fail come from Reddit. 

Reddit, of course, prides itself on being the "front page of the internet" and despite disliking it's design I do like some of the features of Reddit (though I am not a Redditor), the best being the impressive Ask Me Anything features that get famous or interesting people (from indie-electronic artist Tycho to the President of the United States of America) to field questions asked by the community - the AMA features are so good (and that Reddit knows it) there's even an AMA app now that siphons them off into a better layout.

Reddit, however, isn't the problem. The problem comes when sites like Buzzfeed, Upworthy and others build an article around them and then give it a headline that grabs your attention. Clickbait devalues a lot of good journalism that appears online because Facebook and Twitter make it difficult to separate the links that are worth your time and those that aren't. Facebook even recognises this, and is making technical changes to try and rank clickbait lower than articles that aren't to readdress the balance. If Facebook, who are notorious at making your feed work to their benefit are making changes you know you're doing something... well, not wrong per se, but certainly not great.

You have to appreciate that the internet is the ultimate democracy to an extent, because clickbait only exists because people do click on them. Buzzfeed makes a fortune from adverts, clicks and shares because people do click, share and see the adverts. It's not a surprise that the sites have appeared either, because the share-ability of things is pretty much a currency online these days. Widgets and comment systems are bought and paid for to create easy sharing of articles - even this very blog has sharing functions built in because, like I found last year, articles that go "viral" are exciting and fun, and can make people money (I didn't make any money, but I could have done so, if I had had adverts back then). 

The sites that do make clickbait aren't the problem. The problem, in my mind, is the system of sharing things online. In the "olden days" you had to email someone an article that you wanted to read, which took time and wasn't instant. Not everyone had email on their phones, and then your phone didn't load the page properly anyway, so it had to be on a computer. That meant that your time to peruse these things was limited. The amount of noise that Facebook throws at me these days is quite simply astonishing and the unfiltered news feed of Twitter is magnificent in comparison. The funny thing is that Twitter are getting rid of that in a terrible move (according to sources) which will mean Twitter will become just as bad as Facebook, at the same time as Facebook starts to pull back on the curated system that ends up dropping random shite into my feed that I don't want to see.

There is an issue too with satire online - I have noticed that Facebook has started to tag Clickhole and The Onion articles with a wee "Satire" badge presumably to stop people thinking that articles on there are real. The problem with that is it ruins the power of the site; Clickhole works because it's able to parody something that is almost beyond parody. If it pitches the articles so well that you can't tell the difference, then that surely that is the point they're trying to make. 

The problem really lies with the users and readers. The Share button is so abused it has lost all meaning, just like the Like button. It's ubiquitous nature has devalued it so much that I am blind now to the clickbait articles. I won't read Buzzfeed, Upworthy, Zergnet or anything else like that at the moment, even when Buzzfeed wants to be a legit news site. Instead I like to read Twitter and bank on the folk that I like sharing something worthwhile.

And if you don't realise what clickbait is you're probably part of the problem. :)