Anime Reporter vents just a bit about how stupid I think clickbait is… and how often it manages to trick me into reading drivel.
No, seriously, I really, truly hate Clickbait. It’s everywhere now and it’s destroying the impact of words like “outrageous” and “unbelievable” and entire phrases like “blow your mind” or “you won’t believe…” You know what, internet? I’m pretty sure that if I click that picture I will totally believe what happened after Kim Kardashian wore a bikini at the beach and some guy walked by. It’s not going to blow me away. My life won’t actually be changed when I see how the homeless guy that everyone except one waitress ignored was actually a heart surgeon who’d fallen on hard times or how the American soldier stood up against islamophobic bullies in a convenience store. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with these stories, well, except that I don’t consider anything involving Kim Kardashian to be worth taking the time to read about. It’s about the fact that websites are being more brash and overt than ever in just shouting “Hey, you! Buzzwords! Now click on our link and give us advertising revenue!” Because that’s what clickbait is. It’s the written equivalent of dangling something shiny in front of a cat and, worse still, it works. We click.
Seriously, whoever decided that combining enough buzzwords in a headline would repeatedly generate hits should just be banned from the internet for a long time. Clickbait, and its success, means that websites no longer have to take the time to construct well-written or meaningful articles. In fact, they pretty much just need to put three or four lines of a fairly average story on each page of a seven page story with nice big pictures and it’s pretty much guaranteed to rack up a lot of clicks. I’m not the only person who’s a little insulted by this, am I? I certainly used to click on lists of pictures and opinions and read them, expecting to find, and often finding, funny and original content. But now it seems like the formula is just being driven into the ground. Or, perhaps it always was and I’ve
only woken up to it in the last year or so. Whatever it is about the way headlines are arranged above a big dramatic picture, there’s still something in my head that sees it and thinks, ‘Oh, that should be interesting’ and I sometimes don’t even realise what’s happened until I’m clicking onto another page after reading four seconds of reading material surrounded by six advertisements for online video games, anime, more articles and Russian brides. That’s it though, that’s the thing that really gets me. It works fairly regularly, even though I know what’s going on. I still click from time to time and that drives me crazy. I don’t care about these stories, I know they’re overhyped non-stories, or just three of four vaguely interesting facts or pictures surrounded by several mundane ones and all of it could be easily contained on a single page, but that wouldn’t increase anyone’s traffic or revenue.
(While writing this, I absentmindedly clicked on a link for 12 True Things You Never Knew About Star Wars)
I think what bothers me the most about Clickbait is that it screams “You are predictable. We know what you like and what you want to see and we’re going to make you dance. Dance to be mildly bored while you wait for our advertisement-laden website to load!” It screams this, barely even trying to pretend to produce anything noteworthy… but we still click. I really don’t like the feeling that I’m being manipulated, let alone by a company that doesn’t know me, but still seems to know exactly how to flick the sheep-switch in my brain. My identity has been reduced to marketing statistics, pictures of dogs catching things in mid-air, things that don’t blow my mind, things that happen directly after other things and a whole bunch of synonyms for “very good”. That… doesn’t feel too nice. I know I’m a complicated, moderately cultured person. I know that I can think for myself and that I have my own individual drives and traits. I also know that in many ways none of that is true at all and I’m as programmable and trainable as an iPod or a Jack Russell terrier.
But there’s a scarier, more significant side to it than that. Sure, it worries me that I can be manipulated and intrigued based on a few statistically analysed words, but it goes much deeper than that. In his book 1984, George Orwell painted the picture of a government that policed and controlled its people, even going so far as to regulated which words were and were not allowed to be spoken. The thinking behind this was that limiting a person’s words, limited the concepts their mind was able to deal with. It restricted their understanding of the world and their place in it. The more that businesses and websites target us through our language, they more they train us to think that a picture of a dog in different hats is something we can’t believe and the more we’re told it’s appropriate to think of a small extra detail about a movie character as mind-blowing, the more those words all start to lose their meaning, the more they start to reflect something mundane and shallow and unimportant. Don’t get me wrong, I love films, I adore dogs and I’m indifferent to funny hats, but Clickbait is no more subtle or useful than typing all in capital letters followed by a multitude of exclamation marks to show that you’re angry. We have all the words we need to do this and when shortcuts in language become commonplace, we think about them less. Clickbait reduces the power of every word it overuses and then moves on to the next words which will actually grab our attention. It’s training us to react to words without thinking about what they mean and the less we think the more of an effect it really has on us.
I’m not saying there’s a conspiracy. I’m not saying there’s a mysterious “them” out there trying to brainwash us. I’m saying that companies are greedy and this is a faster, easier way to make money than creating real content. I’m also saying that these companies don’t care that saturating the internet with this literary candy floss is dulling minds across the globe and strangling the exact same language we could be using to write poetry or great stories or… reviews of anime series. (Okay, I’m not exactly flying the flag of high art of this site, but I do write apart from this as well. I write stories and, occasionally poems and I’m even trying to work on my first full length novel. I’m trying.) My point is just that words should be used to express something. They shouldn’t just be thrown around to attract people to something they wouldn’t want to read in the first place.
I’m trying to fight this though. I think I need to officially rid myself of Clickbait because it’s really just training me to engage with mindless articles instead of picking up the book I started ages ago but haven’t picked up in a while. I don’t want to become comfortable with boredom and I don’t want to become used to chasing shiny buzzwords instead of thinking for myself. Wish me luck, I’m going to kick this habit, so help me Loki!
Thanks for reading,
Sorry there weren’t actually any exploding bikini mice.