Will clickbait be the death of journalism?



Clickbait is a pejorative term describing web content that is aimed at generating online advertising revenue. eye-catching thumbnail pictures attract click throughs and to encourage forwarding of the material over online social networks.

Clickbait headlines typically aim to exploit the “curiosity gap”, providing just enough information to make readers curious but not enough to satisfy their curiosity without clicking through to the linked content.

Clickbait has played modern journalism for the past few years. Advertising incorrect or exaggerated information, it lures people into false articles which are predominantly tabloid articles which twist the words of the truth.

It is difficult to remember a time when you could scroll through the social media outlet of your choice and not be bombarded with fake news stories covered up by a misleading title.

Yes, clickbait content is annoying, but is it harmful?

If you asked this a few years ago, the answer would probably be no – but recently clickbait has given way to a far more dangerous relative, ‘fake news’.

‘Fake news’ has come to prominence and become a widely used term recently with the election of Donald Trump. Many websites were created using clickbait headlines that would appeal to those eager to lap up any negative ‘news’ about the candidate they were hoping would lose the election. These were almost all anti Hillary Clinton stories, often based on something already known but with the rest of the story invented, or just pure speculation stated as fact. These stories were easily spread with social media, particularly Facebook, where people were often in their own ‘bubbles’ – where they rarely see or read news that they disagree with.

The motivation for the propagators of such news is primarily financial. These stories have been reported as earning those disseminating them vast sums through advertising revenue.

The other motivation could be political. It has been reported for years that the Russian government run ‘troll farms’, where people are employed solely to disseminate false information on forums and in comment sections. This has been and continues to be very effective.

Now Trump and his supporters have flipped the ‘fake news’ term on its head. President Elect Donald Trump’s recent press conference he called mainstream news channel CNN ‘fake news’ and refused to answer any questions from them after they reported on an unverified intelligence report that had surfaced several weeks ago that other news outlets had held back on reporting due to the material being impossible to verify.

Calling some news outlets out on their bias is not without merit, but it seems we have reached a point where nothing is ‘true’ anymore, and anyone can make their own ’truth’. We have entered a so-called ‘post truth world’ and the consequences for our civilisation could be severe.

There is something more insidious to clickbait because it is based on the premise that “readers are being treated as stupid” and this trend of duping and manipulating readers , viewers and listeners is becoming the unfortunate online news standard.

Perhaps however, the elevation of the ‘fake news’ narrative to mainstream consciousness could be beneficial in that we may all be a bit more sceptical in future about what we read, and not blindly, automatically believe it to be true.

There’s little chance of seeing an end to clickbait in the near future. Many news and other websites rely on misleading headlines to lure people to read their content.However with the increased awareness of fake news and with it clickbait, decent journalism may well survive. As of now, the jury’s still out.

~By Nina Cazalet Age 15

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