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Fictional examples of "chumbox" style adverts, employing common clickbait tactics[1] of using an information gap to encourage reader curiosity, and promising easy-to-read numbered lists

Clickbait (also known as link bait or linkbait[2]) is a text or a thumbnail link that is designed to attract attention and to entice users to follow ("click") that link and read, view, or listen to the linked piece of online content, being typically deceptive, sensationalized, or otherwise misleading.[3][4][5] A "teaser" aims to exploit the "curiosity gap", providing just enough information to make readers of news websites curious, but not enough to satisfy their curiosity without clicking through to the linked content. Clickbait headlines often add an element of dishonesty, using enticements that do not accurately reflect the content being delivered.[6][7][8] The "-bait" suffix makes an analogy with fishing, where a hook is disguised by an enticement (bait), presenting the impression to the fish that it is a desirable thing to swallow.[9]

Before the Internet, a marketing practice known as bait-and-switch used similar dishonest methods to hook customers. In extreme degree, like bait-and-switch, clickbait is a form of fraud. (Click fraud, however, is a separate form of online misrepresentation which uses a more extreme disconnect between what is being presented in the frontside of the link versus what is on the click-through side of the link, also encompassing malicious code.) The term clickbait does not encompass all cases where the user arrives at a destination that is not anticipated from the link that is clicked.


A defining characteristic of clickbait is misrepresentation in the enticement presented to the user to manipulate them to click onto a link. While there is no universally agreed-upon definition of clickbait, Merriam-Webster defines clickbait as "something designed to make readers want to click on a hyperlink, especially when the link leads to content of dubious value or interest."[10] Dictionary.com states that clickbait is "a sensationalized headline or piece of text on the Internet designed to entice people to follow a link to an article on another web page."[11]

BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith states that his publication avoids using clickbait, using a strict definition of clickbait as a headline that is dishonest about the content of the article. Smith notes that Buzzfeed headlines such as "A 5-Year-Old Girl Raised Enough Money To Take Her Father Who Has Terminal Cancer To Disney World" deliver exactly what the headline promises. The fact that the headline is written to be eye-catching is irrelevant in Smith's view since the headline accurately describes the article.[12]

Facebook, while trying to reduce the amount of clickbait shown to users, defined the term as a headline that encourages users to click, but does not tell them what they will see. However, this definition excludes a lot of content that is generally regarded as clickbait.[4]

A more commonly used definition is a headline that intentionally over-promises and under-delivers.[13] The articles associated with such headlines often are unoriginal, and either merely restate the headline, or copies content from a more genuine news source.

The term clickbait is sometimes used for any article that is unflattering to a person. In such cases, the article is not actually clickbait by any legitimate definition of the term.[14]


From a historical perspective, the techniques employed by clickbait authors can be considered derivative of yellow journalism, which presented little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead used eye-catching headlines that included exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism.[15][16] One cause of such sensational stories is the controversial practice called checkbook journalism, where news reporters pay sources for their information without verifying its truth. In the U.S. it is generally considered an unethical practice, as it often turns celebrities and politicians into lucrative targets of unproven allegations.[17] According to Washington Post writer Howard Kurtz, "this thriving tabloid culture has erased the old definitions of news by including tawdry and sensational stories about celebrities for the sake of profit."[17]


Artistic representation of "clickbait", Bondi Junction, New South Wales, Australia

Clickbait is primarily used to drive page views on websites,[18] whether for their own purposes or to increase online advertising revenue.[19] It can also be used for phishing attacks for the purpose of spreading malicious files or stealing user information.[20] The attack occurs once the user opens the link provided to learn more. Clickbait has also been used for political ends and has been blamed for the rise of post-truth politics. Katherine Viner, editor-in-chief at The Guardian wrote that "chasing down cheap clicks at the expense of accuracy and veracity" undermined the value of journalism and truth.[21] Emotional subjects with stark headlines are widely shared and clicked, which resulted in what Slate described as an "aggregation of outrage" and a proliferation of websites across the political spectrum – including Breitbart News, Huffington Post, Salon, Townhall and the Gawker Media blogs – which profited by producing shareable short-form pieces offering simple moral judgements on political and cultural issues.[22]

Click-through rates (CTRs) on YouTube show that videos with hyperbolic or misleading title, created for the purpose of being attention-grabbing, displayed higher click-through rates than videos which did not. Clickbait tactics generally lead to higher clickthrough rates, and to higher revenue and optimization of a content creator's overall engagement.[23]

There are various clickbait strategies, including the composition of headlines of news and online articles that build suspense and sensation, luring and teasing users to click.[24] Some of the popular approaches in achieving these include the presentation of link and images that are interesting to the user, exploiting curiosity related to greed or prurient interest.[20] It is not uncommon, for instance, for these contents to include lewd image or a "make money quick" scheme.[20]

Clickbait is also used in abundance on streaming platforms that thrive with targeted ads and personalization. At the International Consumer Electronics Show, YouTube revealed that most of the videos watched and watch-time generated did not come from Google searches, but from personalized advertisements and the recommendations page.[25] Recommendations on YouTube are driven by a viewer's personal watch history and videos that get an abundance of clicks. With a streaming platform like YouTube, which has upwards of 30 million active users a day, the videos that are watched are very likely to be those with clickbait in either the title or thumbnail of the video, garnering attention and therefore clicks.[26]


By 2014, the ubiquity of clickbait on the web had begun to lead to a backlash against its use.[8][27] Satirical newspaper The Onion launched a new website, ClickHole, that parodied clickbait websites such as Upworthy and BuzzFeed,[28] and in August 2014, Facebook announced that it was taking technical measures to reduce the impact of clickbait on its social network,[29][30][31] using, among other cues, the time spent by the user on visiting the linked page as a way of distinguishing clickbait from other types of content.[32] Ad blockers and a general fall in advertising clicks also affected the clickbait model, as websites moved toward sponsored advertising and native advertising where the content of the article was more important than the click-rate.[22]

Web browsers have incorporated tools to detect and mitigate the clickbait problem while social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have implemented algorithms to filter clickbait contents.[33] Social media groups, such as Stop Clickbait,[34][35] combat clickbait by giving a short summary of the clickbait article, closing the "curiosity gap". Clickbait-reporting browser plug-ins[36] have also been developed by the research community in order to report clickbait links for further advances in the field based on supervised learning algorithms. Security software providers offer advice on how to avoid harmful clickbait.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gardiner, Bryan (18 December 2015). "You'll Be Outraged At How Easy It Was To Get You To Click On This Headline". Wired. Archived from the original on 17 June 2021. Retrieved 2 August 2018.
  2. ^ Brown, Sunni (2014). The Doodle Revolution: Unlock the Power to Think Differently. Link bait is content or a feature on a website that is expressly designed to get users' attention so they click through to another website.
  3. ^ Frampton, Ben (14 September 2015). "Clickbait - the changing face of online journalism". BBC. Archived from the original on 31 March 2021. Retrieved 12 June 2018. Headline writing has long been considered a skill but, in the digital age, a new word has become synonymous with online journalism - clickbait.
    Put simply, it is a headline which tempts the reader to click on the link to the story. But the name is used pejoratively to describe headlines which are sensationalised, turn out to be adverts or are simply misleading.
  4. ^ a b O'Donovan, Caroline. "What is clickbait?". Nieman Foundation for Journalism. Niewman labs. Archived from the original on 28 August 2014. Retrieved 12 June 2018. Clickbait is in the eye of the beholder, but Facebook defines it as 'when a publisher posts a link with a headline that encourages people to click to see more, without telling them much information about what they will see.'
  5. ^ Zheng, Hai-Tao; Chen, Jin-Yuan; Yao, Xin; Sangaiah, Arun; Jiang, Yong; Zhao, Cong-Zhi (1 May 2018). "Clickbait Convolutional Neural Network". Symmetry. 10 (5): 138. Bibcode:2018Symm...10..138Z. doi:10.3390/sym10050138. ISSN 2073-8994.
  6. ^ Derek Thompson (14 November 2013). "Upworthy: I Thought This Website Was Crazy, but What Happened Next Changed Everything". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on 15 April 2017. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  7. ^ Katy Waldman (23 May 2014). "Mind the 'curiosity gap': How can Upworthy be 'noble' and right when its clickbait headlines feel so wrong?". National Post. Archived from the original on 23 May 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  8. ^ a b Emily Shire (14 July 2014). "Saving Us From Ourselves: The Anti-Clickbait Movement". The Daily Beast. Archived from the original on 18 December 2020. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  9. ^ "Where Clickbait Came From, And Why It's Here to Stay". www.naytev.com. Archived from the original on 21 December 2021. Retrieved 21 December 2021.
  10. ^ "Definition of CLICKBAIT". www.merriam-webster.com. Archived from the original on 6 September 2015. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  11. ^ "Clickbait Definition & Meaning". Dictionary.com. Archived from the original on 8 April 2016. Retrieved 13 May 2022.
  12. ^ Smith, Ben (6 November 2014). "Why BuzzFeed Doesn't Do Clickbait". BuzzFeed. Archived from the original on 6 November 2014. Retrieved 16 January 2019.
  13. ^ "WTF is clickbait?". TechCrunch. 26 September 2016. Archived from the original on 26 September 2016. Retrieved 16 January 2019.
  14. ^ Bowles, Nellie (27 May 2016). "What Silicon Valley's billionaires don't understand about the first amendment | Nellie Bowles". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on 16 January 2019. Retrieved 16 January 2019.
  15. ^ Ingram, Mathew (1 April 2014). "The internet didn't invent viral content or clickbait journalism — there's just more of it now, and it happens faster". GigaOM. Archived from the original on 3 April 2014. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  16. ^ Drell, Cady (29 July 2016). "How Son of Sam Changed America". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 30 July 2016. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  17. ^ a b Kurtz, Howard. "Fees for Sleaze" Archived 5 August 2019 at the Wayback Machine, Washington Post, 27 January 1994
  18. ^ "WTF is clickbait?". TechCrunch. 26 September 2016. Archived from the original on 31 August 2020. Retrieved 22 July 2020.
  19. ^ Frampton, Ben (14 September 2015). "Is clickbait changing journalism?". BBC News. Archived from the original on 31 March 2021. Retrieved 22 July 2020.
  20. ^ a b c Bryant, Adam; Lopez, Juan; Mills, Robert (2017). Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Cyber Warfare and Security. Reading, UK: Academic Conferences and Publishing Limited. p. 27. ISBN 9781911218258.
  21. ^ Katherine Viner (12 July 2016). "How technology disrupted the truth". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 20 December 2016. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  22. ^ a b David Auerbach (10 March 2015). "The Death of Outrage". Slate. Archived from the original on 8 August 2016. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  23. ^ Berger, Jonah (2012). What Makes online Content Viral?. Journal of Marketing Research. pp. 190–205.
  24. ^ Chen, Lei; Jensen, Christian; Shahabi, Cyrus; Yang, Xiaochun; Lian, Xiang (2017). Web and Big Data: First International Joint Conference, APWeb-WAIM 2017, Beijing, China, July 7–9, 2017, Proceedings, Part 2. Cham: Springer. p. 73. ISBN 9783319635637.
  25. ^ "YouTube Says 70% of All Watch Time is Driven by Its Own Recommendations". www.tubefilter.com. 11 January 2018. Archived from the original on 24 May 2024. Retrieved 29 April 2021.
  26. ^ "• YouTube by the Numbers (2021): Stats, Demographics & Fun Facts". 3 January 2021. Archived from the original on 31 March 2019. Retrieved 29 April 2021.
  27. ^ Christine Lagorio-Chafkin (27 January 2014). "Clickbait Bites. Downworthy Is Actually Doing Something About It". Inc. Archived from the original on 30 January 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  28. ^ Oremus, Will (19 June 2014). "Clickhole: The Onion's new site is more than a BuzzFeed parody". Slate.com. Archived from the original on 19 June 2014. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  29. ^ Lisa Visentin (26 August 2014). "Facebook wages war on click-bait". The Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 28 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  30. ^ Andrew Leonard (25 August 2014). "Why Mark Zuckerberg's war on click bait proves we are all pawns of social media". Salon. Archived from the original on 26 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  31. ^ Khalid El-Arini and Joyce Tang (25 August 2014). "News Feed FYI: Click-baiting". Facebook Inc. Archived from the original on 25 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  32. ^ Ravi Somaiya (25 August 2014). "Facebook Takes Steps Against 'Click Bait' Articles". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 12 November 2020. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  33. ^ Hung, Jason; Yen, Neil; Hui, Lin (2018). Frontier Computing: Theory, Technologies and Applications (FC 2017). Singapore: Springer. p. 133. ISBN 9789811073977.
  34. ^ KUSA Staff (19 May 2017). "What this CU student is doing about clickbait will surprise you!". Archived from the original on 24 May 2024. Retrieved 2 August 2018.
  35. ^ "This Article About Stopping Clickbait Isn't Clickbait. We Promise". Archived from the original on 25 October 2020. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  36. ^ Darius Bufnea and Diana Șotropa (September 2018). "A Community Driven Approach for Click Bait Reporting". 2018 26th International Conference on Software, Telecommunications and Computer Networks (SoftCOM). IEEE. pp. 1–6. doi:10.23919/SOFTCOM.2018.8555759. ISBN 978-9-5329-0087-3. S2CID 54438750.
  37. ^ "Top 10 Internet Safety Rules & What Not to Do Online". usa.kaspersky.com. Archived from the original on 23 November 2017. Retrieved 4 May 2020.

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