By Jack Peat, Editor 

BuzzFeed, Slate and Ted Talks Clickbate

We looked into the internet phenomenon known as Clickbait; we didn’t expect to uncover this mindblowing secret!

Ten reasons why posting content to an online audience differs from attracting readership in the real world.

Ok, perhaps we don’t have ten, but we do have one thing; your attention. You see, the internet is like a vast ocean home to a unique ecosystem of animals without properties of the material world. In the same way marine creatures have adapted to their environment, online publications are being made to adapt to theirs, and without pushing the nautical metaphor too far, we’ve fallen hook, line and sinker for the resultant tactics.

Twitter is comparable to a digital newspaper stall; top posts are for all to see, but buying in to news – or clicking through – is where the money is to be made. More than half of UK adults are now accessing news content online, but as Rupert Murdoch figured in the 80s, it’s not just the headline-grabbing news items that attract audiences. The subsidiary items, whether it be raunchy page 3 models, competitions or exclusives on gastric band complications are equally alluring, and selling these (otherwise rather bland news items) requires expertise.

We’re about to unveil the exclusive, mindlowing secret of Clickbait.

What is Clickbait?

Clickbait is internet sensationalism. Some say it’s a new invention for the short attention spans of the internet age, others believe it is simply a continuum of conventional journalist habits which have been adapted in line with online and social media paradigms. Simply put, it’s a way of luring readers by dangling captivating content as bait.

Culpable publications are largely contemporary in nature, but their exclusivity is being eroded as traditional media catches up. BuzzFeed had more than 130 million unique visitors in November 2013 and various other online phenomenon are growing in popularity by using Clickbait as a weapon in their arsenal. The most notable contributor to their success is that they feed off social media and search engines feed off them. Not only are they a product of the digital age, they are also an enabler of it.

Not all Clickbait is the same, but being alluring in nature is the main attribute. Here are a few we grabbed at the time of publication:

“21 reasons why crocodile hunter Steve Irwin will never be forgotten” – Buzzfeed

“These animals have the worst sex in the world #BadSex #PoorGiantSquid” – Slate

“What if superheroes were real? Here’s what might happen:” – TED_Ed

One can see why Clickbaits has its opponents. Steve Irwin, animals having bad sex and superheroes are less groundbreaking journalism and more an indictment of mindless media habits of the 21st century. But Steve Hind of the Guardian argues that: “When readers are lured in and rewarded for their curiosity with good content, everyone wins. Sites like Buzzfeed use this to their advantage, and traditional media should take note.”

Why did you click through?

We set up a phony feature on The London Economic which was plugged on Twitter in order to decipher how people think and act on the internet. We posted three Tweets (below) which directed people to a page called ‘The Big Twitter Study’, and here’s what we found.

1)      “We asked a 12 year-old what they thought about the current political administration.  We didn’t expect this response!”

2)      “20 political scandals that will blow your mind!”

3)      “Why politicians are tricking the nation”

The first Tweet garnered the most response with 41 per cent of the people landing on our page admitting that was why they clicked through. We shaped it to replicate a Tweet from TED Talks (@TEDTalks) which tend to post questions to complement their online depository of answers (talks, blogs, lectures etc..). The third Tweet imitated Slate Magazine and was the reason 35 per cent of voters clicked through. For a magazine of news, politics, and culture, Slate uses ‘groundbreaking’ Clickbait to lure its readers in, even though the article generally provides only part of the answer.

Surprisingly, the second Tweet – wrote in BuzzFeed fashion – was responsible for only 24% of click throughs to our site. Despite some regarding BuzzFeed as a founding father of the Clickbait phenomenon, there seemed to be somewhat of an immunity to hyperbole such as ‘blow your mind’ and the like. Our Twitter following, of course, could be the main reason for this, we appeal to economics/ politics types who are immune to such sensationalism, but it was an interesting test of the varied nature of Clickbait.

Is Clickbait a good thing?

Clickbait is a new term for an old practice. Term it what you will, the art of publishing rubbish and selling it with eye-catching headlines has existed for centuries. ‘Yellow journalism’, or the yellow press, was extensively used to describe certain major New York City newspapers about 1900 as they battled for circulation. The practices of Rupert Murdoch’s red tops today – exaggerating news and scandal-mongering to make headlines – bear remarkable resemblance to the traits of Clickbait.

The internet, being the next logical progression, has thus called for the next new tactic. Operating under new paradigms – 140 characters and social media habits – modern publishers are simply rehashing age old techniques, albeit in a new digital package.

Sensationalised news headlines are a bad thing – gossip can have extremely negative repercussions and unfounded arguments sold in red top packages have been found to be the cause of prejudice and hatred – but one wonders whether publications using flash sensationalism display topics so banal they can hardly have any societal ramifications at all. And as for Slate and Ted Talks, perhaps their use of Clickbait is luring people towards useful content, with the yellow press losing out as a consequence.

Leave a Reply