In the race to record ever higher online traffic, a new genre of headline has emerged: linkbait. Inspired by the form, the doyen of wry digital humour, XKCD, has imagined how some famous 20th century headlines might be “rewritten to get more clicks”.
Such as, from 1905, “How a shocking new theory, discovered by a dad, proves scientists are wrong about everything!”
From 1920: “17 things that will be outlawed now that women can vote”.
From 1945: “These 9 Nazi atrocities will make you lose faith in humanity”.
From 1969: “This is the most important photo of an astronaut you’ll see all day”.
And from 1989: “You won’t believe what these people did to the Berlin Wall! (video)”.
Peeved by the teases of such headlines, Twitter accounts have been setup to blunt the clickbait. At HuffPo Spoilers, the tantalising headline is tweeted alongside the answer. For example:
— HuffPo Spoilers (@HuffPoSpoilers) November 10, 2013
In Australia, Mamamia Spoilers does the same sort of thing.
But is clickbait really so terrible?
Steve Hind, writing for the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, reckons we shouldn’t be too quick to condemn it.
When readers are lured in, and rewarded for their curiosity with good content, everyone wins. So if clickbaiting can be harnessed to drive views (and therefore earnings), we should play along. After all, it’s reasonable to conclude that it is here to stay. In light of that, I’d hate to see traditional media outlets feel that they have foresake new ways of driving traffic, lest they be seen as low brow …
Those of us who care about traditional media outlets and serious journalism need to pick our battles. The giants of the industry are under serious threat and have to adapt quickly in the face of threats from more nimble rivals. Let’s give them a pass on the clickbait, and keep the focus on the quality of the content.