You Have No Idea What’s Behind These Clickbait Headlines! So I’ll Tell You!
When I wrote for The New York Times, I always admired how the editors could put a story in just the headline. They still do, of course: “Credit Suisse Pleads Guilty in Tax Evasion Scheme.” “Russia Says It Pulled Troops, but NATO Sees No Sign.” “Mayor Tells City’s Tabloids to Apologize to His Wife.”
Those headlines are transparent and efficient. They’re good journalism.
Those headlines contrast sharply with the headlines we all know of as “clickbait” — teaser headlines that imply that if you click the link, you’ll be rewarded by something shocking, amazing, uplifting, or sexy.
Very occasionally, clicking turns out to be worth it, and you’re glad you bothered. More often, it’s a total fraud, and you’ve just wasted your time. Even at their best, clickbait headlines are shameless hype. At their worst, they’re downright deceptive.
Clickbait, of course, is a scheme to drive up a website’s traffic. It’s a modern spin on tabloid journalism. But it shows tremendous insecurity; if you have a good story, why do you have to overhype it?
And it’s costly to you, the reader/victim. Sometimes you’re deceived, and sometimes you can’t find the answer to the headline’s riddle without watching a video. Which wastes your time and, if you’re on a plane with glacial WiFi, frustrates you because you can’t find the missing element.
But you know what? Two can play this game. If they can tease us by publishing half-truthy, overhyped headlines, then I can burst their bubble by revealing the tantalizing secret of each one. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present: Pogue’s Clickbait Spoilers!
Here are the latest clickbait stories that have been circling through Facebook lately, and what you’d find if you clicked through. I’m saving you time and irritation, and teaching you a little about what passes for reporting these days. (And yet by including the links, I’m still offering the originating websites a little extra publicity.)
You’re both welcome.
Spoiler:Tobacco, alcohol, and prescription painkillers. (Each kills more people than marijuana.)
Spoiler: It kicks with its front legs to splash water onto its body.
Spoiler: It’s a little social stunt. The first time, he’s dressed like a homeless guy; passersby ignore his cries for help. The second time, he’s dressed in a suit; people help him up.