Clickbait is a pejorative term describing web content that is aimed at generating online advertising revenue, especially at the expense of quality or accuracy, relying on sensationalist headlines or eye-catching thumbnail pictures to attract click-throughs and to encourage forwarding of the material over online social networks. Clickbait headlines typically aim to exploit the "curiosity gap", providing just enough information to make readers curious, but not enough to satisfy their curiosity without clicking through to the linked content.
From a historical perspective, the techniques employed by clickbait authors can be considered derivative of yellow journalism, which presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines that include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism.
By 2014, the ubiquity of clickbait on the web had begun to lead to a backlash against its use. Satirical newspaper The Onion launched a new website, ClickHole, that parodied clickbait websites such as Upworthy and BuzzFeed, and in August 2014, Facebook announced that it was taking technical measures to reduce the impact of clickbait on its social network, 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. Ad blockers and a general fall in advertising clicks have also affected the clickbait model, as websites move towards sponsored advertising and native advertising where the content of the article is again more important than the click-rate.
Clickbait has also been used to political ends, and in this respect has been blamed for the rise of post-truth politics. Katherine Viner, editor-in-chief at the The Guardian has said that "chasing down cheap clicks at the expense of accuracy and veracity" undermines the value of journalism and truth. 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, 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.
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- Derek Thompson (November 14, 2013). "Upworthy: I Thought This Website Was Crazy, but What Happened Next Changed Everything". The Atlantic.
- Katy Waldman (May 23, 2014). "Mind the 'curiosity gap': How can Upworthy be 'noble' and right when its clickbait headlines feel so wrong?". National Post.
- Emily Shire (14 July 2014). "Saving Us From Ourselves: The Anti-Clickbait Movement". The Daily Beast.
- 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. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
- Drell, Cady (29 July 2016). "How Son of Sam Changed America". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
- Christine Lagorio-Chafkin (Jan 27, 2014). "Clickbait Bites. Downworthy Is Actually Doing Something About It". Inc.
- Oremus, Will (June 12, 2014). "Area Humor Site Discovers Clickbait", Slate. Retrieved August 4, 2014.
- Lisa Visentin (August 26, 2014). "Facebook wages war on click-bait". The Sydney Morning Herald.
- Andrew Leonard (Aug 25, 2014). "Why Mark Zuckerberg's war on click bait proves we are all pawns of social media". Salon.
- Khalid El-Arini and Joyce Tang (August 25, 2014). "News Feed FYI: Click-baiting". Facebook Inc.
- Ravi Somaiya (August 25, 2014). "Facebook Takes Steps Against 'Click Bait' Articles". The New York Times.
- David Auerbach (10 March 2015). "The Death of Outrage". Slate. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
- Katherine Viner (12 July 2016). "How technology disrupted the truth". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 July 2016.