Clickbait – Buzz Off Buzzfeed, Piss Off Pinterest, Good Riddance Reddit

Connor White

I learned something about aggregate-content websites today, and what happened next will blow your mind.

Technology is becoming increasingly prudent for use in the classroom, with websites and required software popping up like Starbucks. In most cases, they’re convenient and straight-forward, serving as tools to help further your personal and professional goals. Savvy advertisers and marketers have caught onto the trend in the past few years, and have released nothing short of a vile plague upon the masses. A plague called “Clickbait,” and one easy trick will help them attract millions of users.

Websites like Buzzfeed, Gawker and the Huffington Post are the worst offenders, carefully crafting headlines that grab user’s attentions. Articles posed as lists or quizzes appealing to various demographics are easy to make and easy to digest. They’re cute, fun, interesting; call them whatever you like. But the downside is that, while interesting, cute, or fun, none of them are particularly ‘useful.’ Learning what breed of dog you most resemble won’t help you get a job any more than comparing yourself to a cocktail will help you study for your Biology exam. It’s mindless entertainment, a rabbit hole that’s all too easy to throw yourself into. And when you do, you’ve pissed away the hours accomplishing what amounts to absolutely nothing. You’ve moved nowhere. You’re stagnant.

Compelling captions aren’t the only invention of Clickbait. Sites like Reddit and Pinterest are constantly flooded with content that amounts to nothing of value. It’s not news, thought-provoking discussion, profound expressions of art; it’s superficial garbage, and consuming too much of it is just as bad as consuming too much grease or sugar.

All these websites and their aggregated bullshit have formed an unofficial coalition of sorts, a collection of ‘hobbies’ that have the rare, counter-productive gift of taking as much of your time as they can, and giving nothing back. You will not get into grad school browsing Tumblr, learn an instrument pouring over Reddit comments or master a second language taking Buzzfeed quizzes.

The content managers of these sites have it down to a science. The mental process of curiosity is one of mankind’s greatest motivators, one psychologists and neuroscientists still struggle to fully comprehend. But advertisers and marketing companies don’t need full comprehension to take advantage of the human mind’s need to learn more once curiosity has been piqued.

For example, an experiment by BI Norwegian Business school conducted just last year found that article headlines crafted as questions or featuring the second-person (as if to speak directly to you) attracted 150-175% more page views, a valuable commodity among advertisers. They craft their articles around current popular events, or even resort to framing them in such a way that anyone would believe they were talking specifically about them (14 Things Only College Students Will Understand: We drink lots of coffee!!!!!!), a tactic no better than that employed by those television mediums who claim they can speak to the dead. They’re grabbing at straws and sweeping generalizations, and hoping that people will take the bait. More often than not, they do, and marketing teams reel in valuable personal data to sell to advertisers.

I’m not saying that all these websites are inherently evil, or even that all the content they create falls under these categories, but they’re becoming a problem. More people are shying away from hobbies and activities that require any amount of mental effort, instead turning to slogging through clickbait-esque content. It’s easy, it’s convenient, it’s ‘funny’ (a stretch, considering most laughs elicited are nothing more than a harsh breath through your nose), and in fact, very reminiscent of the abuse of recreational drugs.

Consider this: you’re content to sit on your sofa or bed and take whatever content/drug you come across. You lose motivation to try anything new. You lose your ambition. You’re spending every waking moment of free time hunched in front of laptop, giggling about the comparison between you and the flavors of cupcakes. Clearly, you’re more of a chocolate than a red velvet.

Reddit, Buzzfeed and Tumblr have become capable of the same dangers associated with gambling and drug abuse. They can dull the mind in the same way penny slots or heroin do.That’s a sobering, and terrifying, thought. I’m as big a proponent for the Internet as anyone, but make sure you’re not spending too much time on these kinds of sites, browsing this kind of content…

Because you won’t believe what happens next.