Thanks to the unpredictable weather, Bengaluru has been either extremely cold or receiving rains over the past few days. Unable to venture out on weekends, I planned to relax at home and dose off in the afternoons. On one such sluggish Sunday afternoon, while I was just about to lock my mobile and go to sleep, something caught my eye. Oh my, my curiosity got the better of me and I had to click it …The headline read “Years after these Siamese twins were born, they shared shocking news”. I was so curious, my mind quickly hustled and assumed that these twins would have decided to opt for surgery to get separated!!!
Source: Tips & Tricks.co
After a tedious journey of 41 clicks the shocking news was, that both of them working as teachers in a school are getting promoted to 5th grade (Spoiler Alert !!!). By then I lost the golden moment of stealing a good nap. I was wide awake wondering about what I saw.
This made me ponder, what is the purpose of clickbait? Are all clickbaits as un-sensational as the one I saw? Why do websites even host them? Do websites ban such click baits? And a sleuth of more such questions.
What is clickbait and what is its purpose?
The term “clickbait” was coined by a blogger by the name Geiger in the year 2006. Before the proliferation of internet, this type of tactic was prevalent in the newspapers and was called as either yellow journalism (sensationalistic or lurid stories presented without proper research) or tabloid journalism. There are multiple definitions of clickbait, however, I would personally find the definition given by Munger et al. (2020) most relevant, which states that “A headline that strategically withholds information to entice the reader to click on a link”. This summed up my experience of clickbait. In the clickbait which I clicked, the information which was withheld was whatever the Siamese twins did after 22 years. Many of the definitions of clickbait are rooted in the “Information Gap Theory of Curiosity” (Lowenstein, 1994), and it states that “as the information gap theory of curiosity that play with human psychology, to lure the user to view a content that does not faithfully represent the claim it presents and eventually degrades the user experience”.
Why websites were even hosting these clickbaits?. Many websites provide their ad space to clickbait content as it drives the advertising revenue by garnering more clicks. One can be careful and avoid headlines like the below as they more or less indicate clickbait
- You will not believe what just happened
- 15 reasons as to why you should not
- 10 horror movies that are bound to scare you
- He wrapped his legs in aluminium foil and you will not believe what happened
Most of the clickbait content produced in India are honey trap clickbait, which I have often noticed target the middle class or people wanting more money. Headlines like “He invested in this and became a millionaire in a month”.
Is all the clickbait content bad? There could be some clickbait content which is preposterous and ridiculous, some might be partially true and some clickbait might have been created with a good intent. Ola’s push notification “8 missed calls from mom” almost gave a mini heart attack to many Ola users. This message was followed by 40% off on fruits & veggies in Ola Dash. Many of them found this to be insensitive and Ola was massively trolled and criticized by netizens. Another clickbait which grabbed attention was P V Sindhu’s “I retire” message. This tweet by Sindhu was to sensitize and create awareness about COVID-19. This tweet was successful, it was re tweeted 2000 times and garnered around 15k likes. This indicates that clickbait if used with a good intent is a potent force to garner attention.
With ubiquitous content present on the internet and reducing attention span of people, clickbait acts as a savior for content creators. However, many websites use this just to garner clicks and this is driving people to look at it with doubt, distrust and hate. Clickbaits often reduce the credibility of the websites hosting the same. Many audiences view it as malicious content and go to any heights to avoid it. By hosting clickbait with manipulative content viewers degrade the hosting website as well. According to the research conducted by Mukherjee et al., (2022) the probability of sharing non clickbait content is much higher than sharing clickbait content. Clickbaits can act as a source of malware, which is harmful for the device. Clickbait content is more common in categories of fashion and entertainment, rather than politics and sports. Clickbait content is also available in the form of youtube videos. Youtube is one of the most prominent host of clickbait videos. Many a times such videos have comments pointing out the misrepresentation of information. Clickbaits can also increase the bounce rate, i.e. if the user does not find the content relevant he might just leave the website.
Facebook has taken preventive measures to control the onslaught of clickbait on its website. Facebook identifies any post which either “withholds information” or “exaggerates information” as clickbait. It also started penalizing publishers who had higher frequency of posting clickbait. Facebook is using AI/ML and NLP to identify clickbait headlines across multiple languages. Decision trees, random forest classifiers (Random Forest is a popular machine learning algorithm that contains a number of decision trees on various subsets of the given dataset and takes the average to improve the predictive accuracy of that dataset) also help in detecting clickbait. However, not all the websites have the arsenal to do so. Many websites are equipped to identify the same in English, however they are failing to detect clickbaits in regional languages in India. There are certain browser extensions like stop clickbait, clickbait remover for youtube, that could prevent and block clickbait.
From what I have seen and experienced, clickbaits are definitely effective and efficient in attracting the audience. Buzzfeed and upworthy are examples of a few websites which are leveraging the trend of clickbaits. These websites garner huge number of views, for example Buzzfeed on an average gets about 5 billion content views per month and upworthy averages 200 million view mark on facebook. However, the consistent use for malicious purpose has made the audience averse towards it. According to a study conducted by chartbeat on user behavior across 2 billion web visits in a time period of 1 month, less than 55% of the audience spent fewer than 15 seconds actively on a web page. In this generation of instant gratification, captivating readers and viewers can be done through clickbait, by ensuring the headline and the content are in sync. While this is a potent tool to communicate positive content, we couldn’t gainsay that the avarice of modern consumer capitalism befouls the application intent at scale. Now I am vary of any headline that withholds information!!!
Mukherjee, P., Dutta, S., & Bruyn, A. D. (2022). Did clickbait crack the code on virality. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 482-502.