Or at least, that's what I always thought clickbait was. Apparently, everybody else thinks it's something different.
How We Ruined It:
Whenever I see the word "clickbait" now, it's just being used to mean "something on the Internet I don't like." Pandering is now clickbait, but writing something incendiary is also clickbait. Racists write clickbait for other racists, whiny liberals write clickbait for other whiny liberals. Someone put a joke in a title? Gah, you bastards, you clickbaited me! The term has become so broad that it's effectively meaningless. And I know why.
The word "clickbait," outside of context and any meaning we give it as a culture, describes every title for every piece of content on the Internet. Most traffic for a given anything comes from social media, so the title and maybe an image is the only thing people will see when they're deciding whether to click. So the title is literally bait for clicks. That's its function: It's an ad for the entire article. Not unlike how front-page headlines were ads for the entire newspaper, or magazine covers were ads for the rest of the ads that are found inside of magazines.
Don't forget: this system overwhelmingly benefits the consumer, because we get to customize our social-media feed and then sit back and watch as people pitch us, in just a few characters, something they hope we'll like. "Entertain me!" we say, leaning back and eating a peeled grape like Egyptian royalty. "OK, how does '26 Harry Potter Quotes Made Hilarious By Replacing 'Wand' With 'Penis'' sound?" The internet asks. "Stop trying to make me click on you!" We screech. Right, okay.
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Does "6 Kinds of Makeup I Smeared On My Face To Make You Pricks Laugh" please you, master?
And this diffusion of meaning actually bums me out, because the kind of clickbait I pointed out at the beginning -- the kind with the lying -- is actually pretty dangerous. It threatens the foundation of our entire clickbait-based media economy. And if that falls apart, what system will we use instead? I can't think of a better one. Can you? Let me know in the comments, but give me a 60-character summary or your idea before you give me the whole essay-length explanation. I want some sense of whether what I'm going to read is any good before I start.