"17 Things That Will Be Outlawed Now That Women Can Vote"
"6 Titanic Survivors Who Should Have Died"
and a handful of other headlines like these are the handiwork of Randall Munroe, who re-imagined 20th century headlines as though they were written to get more clicks. Because, naturally, “This one weird mould kills all germs” could’ve really stepped up the amount of shares Alexander Fleming got when he discovered Penicillin in 1928.
Munroe’s point, of course, was that the “clickbait-ification” of modern news is cheapening it. He, along with many a bitter blogger, has criticized the approach for not only taking away the substance from news sites, but also for being manipulative and repetitive. So, how did these tactics rise to such wild popularity? Money, of course.
Now more than ever before, websites have been seeking ways to snag visitors and to keep them clicking around. From an editorial point of view it increases your influence, and from a commercial point of view more traffic means more advertising revenue. So it’s not exactly surprising that listicles, clickbait and slideshow-formatted content have been on the rise throughout mainstream publishers.
These classic tactics keep page views high and the ad revenue pouring in. While just about any online news organization has ads to support their website and staff, certain websites like Buzzfeed, Distractify, and Listverse are designed around this concept. As a result, the quality of news content has decreased while the algorithm-driven world of online ads is only increasing, which brings us to the next phase of clickbait... the backlash.
Much like Munroe, more and more people are tiring of viral headlines. The media considers them a threat to their integrity, arguing that the clickbait-ification of information is only perpetuating the idea that anyone with a website and computer can be a "journalist" and that the millennial generation isn’t interested in “real” news.
In fact, the media has found itself in a bit of a catch 22—do they stick to what’s working for the sake of site traffic and revenue or stick to journalistic integrity and professional approach? Have younger generations become too accustomed to this sensationalized version of news to return to the old way of headlines? It’s hard to be completely sure, but evidence suggests we may be able to get past this news fad.
As of recently, it’s not just the media who is tired of clickbait headlines. People are slowly starting to become fed up with the misleading, long, hyperbolic headlines that lead to disappointment. The creation of Downworthy, a browser plugin “to turn hyperbolic viral headlines into what they really mean” provides an excellent example of just how tired viewers have become of this trend, stating “Because Enough is Enough Already” as their tagline.
People have even created satire-riddled Upworthy Generators that mock the ridiculous headlines to very basic videos. This kind of backlash may even be more profound than that of the media, which could mean the decline of clickbait. Maybe.
Unfortunately, the issue is that clickbait headlines naturally pique interest. Despite how much you tell yourself the link will be a letdown or it's fake, curiosity will often push you to check it out anyway. Potential disappointment and viruses aside, exaggerated headlines are still typically effective because we can't resist the siren's call.
When brought onto the Colbert Report, Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti noted he couldn’t make a prediction about the future of news coverage: “It’s a very dynamic time in the media industry,” Peretti said “So many things are changing so rapidly right now.”
Colbert’s interjection: “By dynamic you mean clusterf*#@, right?”
Other Backlash Resources
Saved You A Click - Saves you from clickbait by telling you what's up without clicking
Headlines Against Humanity - Challenge to see if you can tell a real headline from clickbait