To be honest, my Facebook, my Twitter and somehow even my Instagram are flooded with clickbait, which is an abuse of the share button. For the purpose of our mutual understanding, let’s define clickbait. The Oxford English Dictionary(OED) defines it as “(On the Internet) content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page.” In an article written by James Hamblin of “The Atlantic,” entitled “It’s Everywhere, the Clickbait,” multiple definitions are given, but the most important one is simple: “misdirection and lying.” I’ll take it a step further and define it as “crap.”
So let’s assume that you know what clickbait is; the next step is to know where to expect it. What type of person shares clickbait? Honestly, it is probably all of us. Odds are that you have shared clickbait, I’ve shared clickbait and, if Jewellverse would let us stay on the Wi-Fi long enough, even Dr. Dema would have shared clickbait. And for those of you saying, “But Sarah, I haven’t shared clickbait. I’m good at social media,” you’re deluding yourself. But don’t worry, we all are.
Clickbait is more than the “You’ll Never Believe What This White, Suburban Mom Did While Her Kids Were Sleeping” or the “Ten Ways to Improve Your Sex Life As Written by Cosmo’s Writers Who Are Trolling You Because No One Actually Wants a Donut on Their Dick.” Clickbait is any of the meaningless crap that we read and then decide to share with everyone else so that they can read whatever meaningless stuff that we just read and share it again in solidarity. It’s any of the articles based in “[Insert Large Number, But Not Too Large of a Number Because We Don’t Want to Use Up the Short Attention Span of Our Readership] Ways A [Insert Vague Adjective That If Someone Called You IRL It Would Be a Meaningless Compliment] is the Best [Woman, Man, Christian, Republican, Democrat Or Whatever Signifier That Will Reach A Large Demographic]. This formula leads to shitty headlines like “The 5 Women You Become Post-Breakup” or “16 Ways to Be the Best White Savior Ever.”
Clickbait is any of the meaningless, fake social activist articles that you share instead of having a conversation with your neighbor who is racist, sexist or bigot in general. These articles aren’t meaningless because the topics they try to cover shouldn’t be discussed, but because more often than not, the articles address the issues in a surface-y way. And the people who are reading them or watching the videos most likely already agree with you. And if they don’t, they keep scrolling and opt out of liking your post. What is learned from a catchy headline? What is changed or challenged by the article “10 Ways to Love the Gays More Than You Already Do” (a Sarah Crosley original headline, patent pending)? Literally nothing, which is a problem for me and for anyone who wants to write, because writing should challenge all those who read it.
But let’s go back to the idea that clickbait is “misdirection and lying.” Clickbait is misdirection because it allows the reader or viewer to think that they are doing some good in the world by watching and sharing a video with a group of people who have similar viewpoints. It’s lying because it allows us to believe that we are challenging those around us to reevaluate their understanding of race, gender, politics, sexuality and religion. And it’s crap because it was all written with the intent of drawing us in.
I believe that it is this last point that makes clickbait more malicious than just fluff. Clickbait panders to our desire for an easy and short read, much like Jodi Picoult panders to the book club of suburban moms. It doesn’t challenge us to form and question our own opinions. It doesn’t incite us to share because we need others to read and experience the excellent writing we just experienced. It incites us to share because we are so often driven by the empty satisfaction from a handful of likes on Facebook, and it encourages the moment of self-gratification that we feel when we stand together with our friends against some evil in the world without having to waste more than five minutes of our day. It is malicious in intent because it was written solely to increase the number of hits a website gets in a day, and that is a misuse of the written word.
This is the moment where you are expecting me to concede my point a little bit by telling you that I read clickbait every now and then and that not all clickbait is bad. But the reality is not that simple. I get angry when I see clickbait take over my feed. I get angry when I see whoever is sharing these meaningless articles because he or she is not a meaningless person. And yes, I do read the occasional listicle- especially if it involves cute animals or delicious food. But as much as my Pocket is full of Buzzfeed, I also read from other sources that I use to educate myself. When all you read is Thought Catalog or The Upworthiest, all you’ll learn is how to quickly digest bullshit, throw it back up for everyone else to see and go back to whatever it is that you should have been doing.
There will be those of you who say, “Well why don’t you just unfriend them?” or “What I share isn’t worth being up in arms about.” And I get the point that you, the reader who is actively responding to writing that hopefully is challenging your opinion, are trying to make. But the fact of the matter is that we are what we share, and what we are sharing is crap.