Clickbait is defined as a type of content or foreshadowing of content that’s going to glean a lot of attention and attract audiences to click the link. Often it’s a text or video thumbnail that exaggerates and sometimes lies in order to deceive viewers. While its origins might not point to this, now, clickbait is used for one capital purpose that we’re all familiar with: making money. When the amount of viewers has become synonymous with the number of dollars going into your bank account, clickbait is the perfect way to increase your income.
The term was coined in 2006 by Jay Beiger who used it in a blog post of his. The term was simply a combination of the word “click” referring to clicking on a thumbnail or link and then “bait” as in baiting in viewers like a fish on a hook. A decade later it officially became a part of the Oxford English Dictionary and the vocabulary of every modern technology user. Even in the 1800s, a form of this term and tactic was used, when yellow journalists would use sensational news and exaggerated headlines to pander.
Clickbait’s Power on the Internet
While there’s nothing “wrong” with basic headlines, analysts have credited clickbait headlines for more views, popularity, and shares. Not only does it revitalize sentences in a way that induces curiosity and a bit of amusement in readers and viewers, but it also has helped old brands turn a new leaf.
Part of its power lies in being able to soften the blow of an image or advertisement – it’s no longer shoving a product down your throat. Instead, it adds a conversational tone that makes your interaction with the ad or brand more personal and easy. This level of approachability has led many brands to find a new market.
Harmful Effects of Clickbait
Just like most powerful things, if used incorrectly clickbait headlines have a high chance of backfiring and pushing audiences away. This can happen if the convoluted headline ends up misleading and confusing readers, who have short attention spans when it comes to reading and internalizing things on the Internet. This and the risk of overpromising or under-delivering can make potential customers upset.
Sometimes overused clickbait terms that have been seen over and over again also create distaste in viewers. Phrases like, “you won’t believe what happened next,” or “this video will blow your mind,” or “your faith in humanity will be restored,” tend to fulfill this opposite effect. This can be seen in a short time on the page, high bounce rates, low sharing rates, or low referral clicks per share which are defined as sharing an article or link without actually reading it, creating a cycle of no Internet traffic.
There’s also something to be said about customer loyalty and how clickbait tends to lower that. Content that stands out without unnecessary fluff and lies is admirable and often finds more traction on the Internet and amongst people who value that integrity. Ironically, they also end up standing out because everything around them is using the same style of clickbait. They also tend to chip away at the trust the reader has in the content because it advertises false or overly hyperbolized content that doesn’t actually exist. This social strategy is clearly a double-edged sword but when used properly, all of these negatives can be avoided.
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Clickbait on Youtube
Youtube has become the biggest platform that uses clickbait on a daily, with users and Youtubers using the technique to glean views and Youtube hierarchy. Famous creators like David Dobrik, who is known for using his money to prank his friends and engage in outrageous activities and purchases, used clickbait quite a lot early in his career. In fact, his fanbase turned it into an inside joke and now he sells merchandise with the words written on it.
A lot of family Youtubers use clickbait as well because of their mainly young demographic of viewers and followers. They’ll promote false information, use bright colors, big block words, and fake thumbnails to capture audiences. They also use red arrows and circles to point out parts of the thumbnail image which has been reported as an example of infantilizing and manipulating.
Even popular video game, Fortnite, which came to popularity a few years ago, has created a community that thrives off of clickbait. In fact, most players of the game and streamers use clickbait to manipulate young viewers into adding to the popularity and wealth. They push false promises or scare little children into liking videos by saying, “like this video or you’ll have bad luck!”
Is There A Solution?
Unfortunately, for the offenders who use clickbait incorrectly and unethically not much can be done because clickbait drives in a huge percentage of revenue for Youtube. Other apps have devised algorithms to filter out clickbait videos but Youtube has not, leading users to rely on their own logic and common sense.
Robert Kyncl, the head of business for Youtube and the man behind all of its most popular creators, spoke out about the abuse of clickbait on his platform. He’s urged creators to change their incentives and approaches in order to avoid salacious videos, tags, and advertising but ultimately he understands their tactics.
“We’re thinking very deeply — and every single day — on how do we create the right incentives and disincentives for creators to do the right thing on YouTube,” Kyncl said in an interview. “That means a lot of different things. That means do the right thing for advertisers, do the right thing for their users, for the platform organically, and not chase sensationalism; not chase views for the sake of views, and not chase drama for the sake of views — and not use drama at our expense for the sake of views.”
Should Clickbait Continue To Be Used?
Everybody uses clickbait, we use it in our everyday real lives to achieve what we want. It’s a smart and effective technique that has revolutionized the Internet and social media, mostly for the better. Despite the harmful uses of it and the creators who have gotten into hot water because of their interpretations, clickbait is still one of the most important contributions to our modern world. It’s helped increase viewership, improve advertisement and create digestible content. So long as we as a community continue to apply ethics and good morals while using this approach, we can ensure quality content that doesn’t breed dishonesty and stress.
By Mireille Karadanaian
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Mireille Karadanaian is an entertainment journalist, whose passion for reviewing upcoming TV shows and movies has existed since a young age. She writes reviews and feature entertainment stories for The Hollywood Insider’s inclusive and authentic platform, contributing to the important stories being told in media today. Mireille loves discussing the impact today’s media is making on younger generations who emulate what they see on screen and the Internet, a double-edged sword. Her stories often include the importance of creating content that inspires inclusion, positivity, and productive messages to all audiences and generations. Mireille’s love of covering TV shows, movies, and exciting questions that are being asked in the media world is seen in her writing and her ability to not just report facts but also tell a story.