Your definition of “clickbait” sucks

An example of clickbait: “A firefighter rescued 9 kittens from a burning building. You’ll never believe what happened next!”

Not an example of clickbait: A title to an article you don’t like or a title that is just misleading or a title that is just sensationalist or any content within an article.

The hallmark of clickbait titles is vagueness. If it isn’t vague, it isn’t clickbait. The reader is given the general topic, but the lede is hidden. That’s the bait. You have to click to find out what happened next. You have to click to see why you’ll be so amazed. You have to click because the title doesn’t give you the basic information about the content.

And, no, that definition of “clickbait” that you just googled does not make a case for some other use of the term. While the OED (why aren’t you using dictionary.com?) says clickbait is any content on the Internet that is sensationalized or designed to get clicks, that’s a garbage definition. Content has been sensationalized on the Internet for the past 25 years. The word “clickbait” has only risen in popular use in the past 2-3 years since Gawker style articles started clogging your Facebook feeds. It’s obvious the word is a response to something more than sensationalized titles. And note how the garbage definition uses “or”. That means anything which is designed to get clicks is clickbait? Quick, tell the BBC and Reuters and Al Jazeera America to stop writing headlines about earthquakes, riots, floods, and Greek debt. Hell, tell Facebook to get rid of that “clickbait” home button at the top of your Facebook page. It’s designed to get you to click, after all.

Related side-rant: People abuse dictionary definitions all the time. First, a lot of people use Merriam-Webster, which is a really shitty dictionary and should be considered dictionary abuse in and of itself. Second, people love to pick one or two *pieces* of a definition that fits their needs. That isn’t how words work. “Television” can be defined, in part, as “visual media”, but that doesn’t mean I get to refer to comic books as television because they’re also visual media.

People labeling everything “clickbait” is a huge pet peeve of mine. It has become this term people use to derisively refer to any article they don’t like. Often, I see people not even being specific to titles, instead focusing on the content of the article. No. The 9th paragraph in an article cannot possibly be what got you to click a link. The title got you to click. And if it was intentionally vague, then it was probably clickbait.

An article title can be bad for many different reasons, but if it isn’t vague, it isn’t clickbait.

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2 Responses

  1. Dammit I had to click to read this! I was baitclicked! :)

  2. FYI. OED doesn’t define words based on what they “should” mean, they define words based on usage. They then provide the etymology, since it is relevant. However, as I’m sure you know, words (and language) are plastic.

    Sorry, but you hit a nerve, so to speak.

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