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The term “clickbait” has been around almost as long as social media. Ever since website hosts figured out how to make money in advertising through the web there has been clickbait. Clickbait is that monster in social media that in a brief sentence, picture, or other quick hit makes you click a link that takes you to a website of their choosing. The website could be a news site, social media, video, a quiz, or something much more malicious. Most of the time you are taken to a page that bombards you with advertisements or automatically captures data about you to target marketing campaigns.
What? That’s crazy talk, right? Trust me – all of it feeds the monster. Just by clicking the post, re-tweeting the tweet, or liking the update you are feeding the monster in a number of ways. Let’s take a look at some details that you may not know about.
Websites make money a lot of different ways through advertising. First of which is through what are called impressions. Impressions are ads that appear on your screen when you open a web page regardless if you click on them or not. Websites make money on impressions (usually pennies) but the number of impressions a website gets can dictate how much money they make on displaying those ads. Marketing companies buy this data from the websites to see where you are going and what you are looking at, then they target ads for your particular interests. Ever wonder why news websites start showing ads for the bowling ball you were just looking at online? It’s because you are being followed!
The second way they make money is through the act of you actually clicking on an advertisement. The website gets paid a small amount for every click on an ad through their site, and this amount gets larger the more clicks and impressions they get. That data is recorded and, once again, specific ads at other websites are targeted at you specifically when you browse other websites with advertiser content.
How does social media play into all of this? Well, let’s start with Twitter accounts. If a website is trying to get a lot of impressions and ad clicks through it’s website, it first has to get you there. The best way to do that is to have social media accounts with lots and lots of followers. How do you do that? You tweet things that get people’s attention and make them want to click on to their website. A headline that will elicit an emotional response from the reader is the most effective. That is why so many news organizations (fake and otherwise) have very active social media accounts.
Let’s use a simple example to make my point. Suppose Fox News tweets out a headline that a certain celebrity claims that Trump hates bacon, and there is a picture of Trump holding a piece of bacon. Bacon lovers (like me!) will be tempted to click the link and read the article, or maybe retweet the tweet to my small amount of followers with my “Bacon is awesome!” comment attached. Or maybe I just “like” it and still all my followers see that I liked it and the headline will appear in their news feed. People that hate bacon may also do the same things that I describe above but representing their views on bacon. People who either love or hate the celebrity mentioned will also be doing the same things mentioned above. Twitter makes it so easy to share! One simple “grab you” headline suddenly is appearing all over people’s social media feeds and the website is getting all kinds of impressions and clicks on ads.
This practice of advertising and impressions is not just limited to news organizations and the like. Think about all of the “quizzes” you take on social media. “What kind of dog am I?” “Who is your spirit animal?”… you get my drift. All of these things have embedded advertisements that give impressions and track your habits. Why do you think it’s so easy to share your results on social media so all your friends can see the answers, get a good laugh, and then click through to do their own quiz, share the answers, get a good laugh…. and so on… and so on… This information is sold to marketing companies who use it to build advertising campaigns. You are also giving that company access to your Facebook data such as your friends lists and other information. They didn’t write these quizzes to make you laugh – they wrote them too make money and to use you to help them do it.
Oh and let’s not forget the celebrities themselves. Publicity in today’s world is measured in social media terms like “followers” and “likes”. In the world of the celebrity there is no such thing as bad publicity. It’s the elixir that keeps their careers alive and their names on the front page. The more popular they are, the more money they command doing whatever it is that they do. That is why you see so many of them saying controversial things on social media that can create firestorm after firestorm. They get attention, they get more followers, they get talked about on news outlets, and their influence grows. They don’t care if their followers love or hate them, just as long as you follow them and they get that increased following for everyone to see. So important is this to them that they throw the responsibility of their influence aside in order to boost their exposure and presence.
So the next time you see something on social media from a news source, celebrity, or other commercial website that provokes a strong emotion in you to take action such as a retweet, a like, or a strongly worded comment, think about what I have said here. By not taking action you are doing more to stop the problem then you are by reacting.
Imagine if the next time a celebrity said something that was controversial, instead of everyone commenting and sharing it, we all just clicked the “unfollow” button. That would probably get their attention more than your strongly wondered comment lost in a maze of comments that they never even look at.
Categories: Smoke and Mirrors