YOU HAVE TO READ THIS!! : Students, teachers address evolution of clickbait, repercussions for unbiased information

Uday Lomada

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After a long and strenuous day at school, senior Riley Aadson used to plop down on his couch and watch the headlines pass by or watch a YouTube video from his recommended list. This was when he normally caught up on the news about the world around him. Titles like “Obamacare IS DESTROYING JOBS” and headlines such as “A young woman has a steamy affair with a charismatic older man. Then his wife turns up dead. Find out what happens next…” appear as Aadson goes through his news feed on his phone. After a short while speed reading through all the headlines and watching some videos, Aadson, frustrated, throws his phone into a couch. Instead of learning about events unfolding around the world, all he knows are some skewed facts and misinterpreted opinions, all wrapped around clickbait headlines.

Throughout the years, people have always tried to appeal to their audience using a variety of tactics. The idea of using alluring headlines to grab attention has been around since the beginning of mercantilism. Today’s version of that-clickbait, is a modern manifestation of that tactic. However, in today’s society where life is busier and whole incomes can be derived from the amount of views one can get, clickbait is more prevalent and accessible than ever before. While some say clickbait has always affected available information and others said that this is a relatively new phenomenon, many agree that clickbait lowers content quality and allows for misinformation to spread.

Aadson said clickbait in its current form is relatively new due to a new access to information thanks to the internet.

He said, “When I was younger, I use to watch TV with my dad. Of course I wouldn’t understand the intricacies of what they were talking about, but I would read the headlines and understand what was going on. Now that I can’t do that anymore, I’m more tempted to just ignore the news because I don’t want to read the thousands of skewed opinions on the internet. There is no point in watching the news if I have to spend three times as much time looking for the correct information than just ignoring it altogether.”

However, CHTV teacher Eric Marty said even though clickbait’s prevalence has increased recently, it has been present for a while.

“Way back when I was learning journalism, we had learned clickbait as sensationalizing headlines to the extent in a way that makes a story seem more dramatic than it really is in order to get people to click on a story. It’s still around today,” Marty said.

Aadson said clickbait content tends to be of lower quality, and it affects more than just the article or news piece at hand.

“Nowadays, getting views is more important than being able to actually tell a summary of a story,” Aadson said. “Now that many news services are free, they rely so much more on getting people to see as many pages on their site as possible to rake in that ad revenue. They don’t need to put effort into the content, and even if they do, it’s just that now you actually have to read all the details about something you might be only moderately interested about. It’s a waste of my time.”

Similarly, Marty said clickbait has changed over time, making it harder to get better news.

“A while back, clickbait was definitely still around, but it worked in a different way. When I would write papers, my teachers would always tell me to use reputable sites and check information, but at the time the focus was more on talking about domains and talking about a different sources reputation. You didn’t really have to question each individual story once you were at that source,” Marty said. “If you went to CNN.com, you assumed that what they said was good journalism. Not to say that everything they post now isn’t, but you have to pay attention to each individual writer and detail now. ”

Aadson also mentioned how data collection has made it even harder to find reliable information because companies feed people what they want to see.

“After hearing about how much personal information Facebook collects and how most every other large company collects similar information, it makes me think about how much I’m being manipulated,” Aadson said. “If it was a problem in the past, the data collection that companies do is definitely a big problem.”

Clickbait content isn’t just limited to news though. It appeal also has spread to video streaming sites such as YouTube and even Twitch.

Aadson said “when YouTube wasn’t as used as a source of entertainment, I remember being able to watch content from almost anyone and the videos were usually good. They weren’t trying to get me to watch it if I didn’t want to, I clicked on it because the topic looked interesting ro similar to something I needed. Now, when I look at my recommended list, it’s either the same video over and over again or something that’s exactly 10 minutes long. I just worry that now the overall quality of videos on YouTube is going to degrade because the smaller channels who make good content might see these channels doing better than them and start trying to be like them too. It would eventually ruin videos for everyone, not just the clickbaiters.”

Jacob Carroll, junior whose father, Dr. Aaron Carroll, explains healthcare policy and medical research for award winning YouTube channel Healthcare Triage, said that a similar appeal to clickbait applies in YouTube too.

“Back a while ago, people didn’t see YouTube as a career,” Carroll said. “There was no way that back when it started, people were expecting (Youtube) to rake in a million dollars a year. Now, however, people see money in the form of ad revenue, with more clicks making them more money. While my dad’s channel and their sister channel, Crash Course, produce good content to match whatever title and thumbnail they use, many people on YouTube aren’t as honest and still make money off of that.”

As people have called out and actively opposed journalists for less than stellar content, there is also work being done to counter such activity on websites like YouTube, though the ways they go about it have been controversial.

Carroll said, “It appears that something is happening on YouTube to stop the abuse that is happening. While no one really knows what going on inside YouTube, I believe that their new rules for ads are the start of some new system that helps to limit this activity. Even though they seem to use a bot that is terribly underdeveloped, I think that the ideals YouTube is trying to enforce are going to help in the long run.

No matter what happens, Aadson said one piece of advice to always keep in mind.

“People today are always skewing information in their favor,” Aadson said. “One thing I remember is to always take everything with a grain of salt.”

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