A history of clickbait part 2

A history of clickbait part 2

How data invented modern clickbait

As it turns out, clickbait in one form or another has existed almost as long as there have been newspapers.

Today’s clickbait might look different from clickbait of the past, but how different is it, really?

One thing that has changed is the medium. After all, the very term “clickbait” refers to the act of compelling an internet user to click on something through enticing imagery and/or an engaging headline.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the motive. Publishers of online content operate based on the same ad-based model wherein readership (aka views in the modern context) equates to revenue as did newspaper publications of yore. The only differences today are the methods of application (click-through rate, pay-per-click etc).

It’s hard to discuss modern-day clickbait without mentioning the trailblazer of the internet era’s attention economy. From the outset, BuzzFeed’s primary goal was to garner clicks and they were happy to do pretty much whatever it took to get them.

This led the company to reinvent practices such as headline optimisation for the digital age. In BuzzFeed’s headline doctors’ hands, a video with an accurate but mundane title – “Zach Wahls Speaks About Family” – would become the sensational “Two Lesbians Raised a Baby and This Is What They Got” and go on to accumulate 19 million views.

BuzzFeed explicitly prioritised piquing interest over publishing content that people would appreciate after they landed on the page. They were not out to please but rather to garner clicks. They learned that the way to do so is to incite outrage and other (usually negative) emotions.

Our negativity bias, once useful for keeping us alive, now primes us to keep clicking and clicking despite knowing that we are unlikely to be satisfied. And although they discovered new, data-driven ways to tap into this bias, BuzzFeed were far from the first to pick up on and capitalise upon this quirk of human psychology.

Read part three for even MORE fascinating insights into the world of clickbait and its implications!

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