By S. MOLLY DOMINICK
For modern-day Internet surfers, the above headline structure probably looks very familiar. And as a fellow Internet surfer … I’m so sorry that is the case. These days, we all seem to be inundated with what the Internet wizards have dubbed “clickbait” — and from sources that might surprise you.
Oops, I did it again.
Clickbait is exactly what it sounds like: material that baits people to click it. Because every click gives a website ad revenue, the sole goal of clickbait is money. Perhaps I’m giving it a hard time, and maybe the issue is not so plain and simple. But when websites begin sacrificing content for an abundance of catchy headlines—as websites like BuzzFeed have been increasingly known to do — that’s when these websites have fewer defenses.
Publishing material with a focus on making money is not deplorable in itself. Everything is a business; even the most respectable publication needs to make money. And whether for money or not, every publication desires to increase its readership.
Historically, publications have tried doing so through jaw-dropping headlines and rumor circulation, for just two examples of many, and so clickbait is just a modern version of what has been going on for years. But clickbait is tailored toward the Internet, an expanding market, which actually makes clickbaiters pretty smart. Looking at it from this angle, the intentions and strategies of clickbaiting should not necessarily be condemned.
However, the issue arises when the business side of publishing completely eclipses content value. When money and clickbaiting and page views are the ultimate goal of a publication and other goals become secondary or even nonexistent, we have a problem.
When these things are the sole objective of a publication instead of a side strategy to help bring content to readers, then publications are losing sight of their mission. The very Constitution of the United States protects the existence of these publications because they have a purpose and duty. If they were merely another form of business, then they would not receive special protections under the law, above what normal businesses receive.
Not convinced that things are getting a bit out of hand? Well, when Gawker writes an article called “The ISIS Babies Are Freaking Adorable,” in my humble opinion, someone is violating something.
As for what can be done about this epidemic of catchy headliners and lacking content, I wouldn’t claim to have the wisdom to say. But I can hypothesize that business should dictate the future of clickbait naturally, and it seems the tide is already turning. As people get more annoyed by clickbait’s empty promises, companies like Facebook are already responding for the sake of business. So the force that gave birth to clickbait in the first place—business—will hopefully be the same force that finally puts it to rest.