This one almost got me this morning. ‘Watch What Happens When He Pours Green Liquid Into A Bunch Of Straws – Brilliant!’ What was this mystery green liquid? Would the straws explode? For a second, I got a flashback of the awesome experiment with Mentos in Diet Coke, then I quickly realised it probably wasn’t as exciting and it was probably the same tutorial about how to make jelly worms that I saw earlier on Pinterest. Fascinating. Not.
Yet they’re so tempting. You’re always One Click Away from discovering something Unbelievable, Shocking, Amazing or Heart-Warming. And so you click. Because you’re curious. Because you need a laugh. Because you need a cry. You follow the link only to find out it’s just a re-posted video from YouTube, a celebrity Instagram or an article that’s not worth calling an article. You promise yourself to do more scrolling in your News Feed and less clicking.
By using sensational and exaggerated titles on social media, sites hope to trick you into following their link, earning them money from advertisers. Clickbait is the word, and the worthless pages behind the links exist because advertisers pay for page clicks. If a site gets you to click onto a page where an advertisement is visible, the advertiser pays. They pay more if you play a video, more if you don’t click the skip button, more if you watch to the end, more if you click the ad, and more if you make a purchase. There are hundreds of sites creating and recycling content with only the interests of advertisers in mind. The financial income of many sites depends solely on how many readers see and click on advertisements. With this in mind, the priority is no longer to create good content, but to get people to click through to your page. This way they earn money even if no one reads the content.
Just because clickbait works though, that doesn’t make it nice. Curiosity killed the cat, but in this case curiosity mostly just leads to disappointment. Enough is enough. I’m not the only one who is fed up. Recently on Facebook, people have been commenting under clickbait articles, revealing the punch line and adding the hashtag #killtheclickbait. By ruining the surprise, they take away any power clickbaiters have over our curious minds. The fact that people are taking action to fight the system is a great indicator that there is room and readiness for change.
While well-intended, these actions may be counterproductive. Clicking, reading and commenting under posts means that more people will see them. To quote Oscar Wilde, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” So my advice is to just keep calm and scroll on. I guarantee you will not miss a thing. There is no interesting content behind those sneaky links. Save your clicks and your time for honest, real sites. I’m not saying we have to be deep and meaningful all the time. If you want to just look at pretty things and cooking tutorials get yourself over to Pinterest and enjoy!
Which leaves one question: how can online media make money? There are other ways. By selling products, subscriptions, native advertising and sponsored content (and being honest about it). By having other business activities like events or consultancy. Interestingly, in the US, there is a system called ChangeTip allowing people to send small amounts of money without charging a fee. You tip the creator of online content just like you would tip your waiter in a restaurant. This puts the focus back on the relationship between the creator and the fan, much as how it works with crowdfunding. I would be happy to be able to send a few cents to the artists, journalists and musicians whose work I enjoy online. Without this kind of support it is almost impossible to survive in the online world.
Maybe someday, online magazines in Belgium will receive support from the government – just like the classic print media do today. Print media get a whopping 400 million euros every year in indirect support: they are exempt from value added tax, whereas Charlie doesn’t have this privilege. They also get free distribution when they publish at least four print issues per year, whereas Charlie pays 3,50 euros per issue distribution because it only publishes two issues per year. The reasoning behind this financial support is that ‘the public has a right to information’ but it seems that the rules were made in a time before the Internet was interwoven with our existence. Hopefully the government will soon see the importance of supporting online media. Environmentally this would also make sense, considering every year 34 million newspapers and magazines are thrown away without ever being read. The online media organization Media 21 is trying to change that.
For now, we should treat ourselves to good content and give our attention to sites that deserve it. If you keep clicking on clickbait, more clickbait will be made. You have the power to make a change in the landscape of online media. If you are feeling particularly inspired you can buy a subscription to Charlie, we’d love to get to know you better!
Just for laughs I have clickbaited some Charlie articles for you, can you resist clicking?
For those of you so inclined, I see a New Years resolution in here; to not fall into the clickbait trap in 2016. #killtheclickbait