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Hook, Line and Sinker

Last year the Oxford English Dictionary added a slew of new words to its range, with ‘YOLO’, ‘Biatch’ and ‘Clickbait’ amongst them.

The first two words are an apt representation of the types of slang popularly used throughout 2016 (which have already been swiftly replaced by the likes of ‘Savage’, ‘Extra’ and ‘Melt’ thanks to ITV’s Love Island).

However, the latter is an official confirmation of an online phenomenon which continues to infiltrate our newsfeeds and browsing history.

The Oxford English Dictionary states the definition of Clickbait as: “online content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page”.

For most of us, we already know tbrowser-1867049_1280he definition of Clickbait as we view it countless times a day, not only across our social media networks in conjunction with the concerning rise of ‘fake news’, but also more surprisingly on official and respectable news websites.

Although we are conscious to the presence of Clickbait and its misleading aims, does it actually stop us from clicking on the link to discover, if for once, the sensationalist headline does live up to its promise and deliver the juicy content we crave?

Of course it doesn’t, and that’s why Clickbait continues its menacing upward spiral. However, whilst it may initially appear as an amateur, under-hand tactic that threatens the credibility of journalism, a range of semantic and cognitive tools are actually being used.

Latest research, by the University of Pennsylvania, discovered that emotional arousal lies at the heart of Clickbait’s success. Following the age-old principle of ‘if it bleeds it leads’, Clickbait headlines rely on the activation of strong emotional responses which make clicking the link irresistible.

This is why headlines such as ‘14-year-old girl stabbed her little sister 40 times, police say. The reason why will shock you’ (taken from CNN’s official website) render us unable to resist clicking through to read the article, time and time again.

Behavioural scientists also believe that another cognitive reason is at play, which is simply – age-old curiosity. The need to discover why a teenage girl may have murdered her little sister becomes a physical emotional need that will only be fulfilled once the link has been clicked.

This, along with more comical headlines such as ‘This is why you shouldn’t try to outrun a bear’, (a real headline from news website Digg), relies on what social scientist, George Loewenstein, dubs the ‘information-gap’ theory.

Loewenstein believes this occurs when readers identify a difference between “what we know and what we want to know”, prompting emotional consequences such as deprivation, which are eliminated or reduced once curiosity has been satisfied.

Although there are a range of semantic tactics lying at the heart of Clickbait, its presence across online content continues to frustrate social media users on a desperate search for authentic content.

Whilst it continues to capture our attention for the moment, it’s only a matter of time before we slip through Clickbait’s obvious net and fall into the hands of yet another attention-grabbing tactic.

If you’d like more information on how HROC can help you create engaging and effective content without the need for Clickbait, please give us a call on 0121 454 9707 or email gary.hebblethwaite@hroc.co.uk