Clickbait Journalism! The Nigerian Experience

Any news medium which does not have space online in today’s world is not yet serious with business. The cyberworld has provided opportunity for audience expansion and creativity in information dissemination due to the fact that the world is shifting to an online-impacted society.

Having realized the crucial nature of the online community in attracting readership, both social and mainstream media operators are gradually popularising a practice called clickbait journalism.

First of all, what is clickbait? 

Clickbait is a term used to refer to an online content primarily framed to attract attention and possibly encourage users to click on a link to a story. It is a strategy used in drawing traffic to an online platform by using specific words to arouse the curiosity of readers and lure them to click on and read a content. The clickbait is often positioned as a headline, caption or slug. Cutlines of photos could also serve as clickbait.

What then is clickbait journalism? 

Clickbait journalism is the practice of adopting sensational headlines, captions and slugs to attract users attention to online news stories with a view to increasing traffic to the platform. It is a form of journalism which focuses on framing headlines and captions which are basically used as bait, in such a way as to make visitors click on stories. In most instances, the curiosity with which you click on the story does not measure up with the content which is often far from your expectations. The social media thrive on this practice a lot because they must survive in the midst of fierce competition.

In clickbait journalism, the headlines typically aim to exploit the “curiosity gap” of online visitors, providing just enough information to make readers of news websites curious, but most times, not enough to satisfy their curiosity without clicking through to the linked content. This means the reader has to click on the link to find out more on the ‘bait’ presented as headline.

The notion of clickbait journalism is not new. This practice is seen as online version of yellow journalism, a word that was coined in the late 1800s and was used to describe the sensationalist, poorly-researched headlines that were adopted as survival strategy by competing newspapers who were desperate for readership. Though the environment has transitioned to a cyber atmosphere, the motivation remains the same. With close to a billion websites in existence, and every one of them competing for your attention, and tactics become fierce, deceptive, and in some instances, hilarious. Clickbait thrives in the social media environment which has been described as characterized by survival of the loudest.

Ethical or Unethical? 

Not that the headlines are false or outright sensational contents. They are put together using ‘magnetic’ language which will leave you with no option but to checkout the content of the story by clicking on the link. The fact that the headline or brief intro is not false is what makes some commentators argue that this is not an entirely unethical practice but simply a creative way to increase traffic to news website. Today, you see headlines such as “Five ways to know you have cancer”, “This Is Why You Should Avoid Sleeping Late”, “You’ll Be shocked to see what this Father did to his son”,”Ten things you do everyday that hurts your heart, you won’t believe number six.” If you check these captions you’ll notice they’ve not told outright lies. You can only declare them unethical practice if you read the content and find it says something different from the caption or it is telling outright lies.

Despite the arguments defending clickbait journalism, the practice has constituted more of unethical practice than reflection of objectivity. This is why it is seen as glorified version of sensational or yellow journalism and condemned by critics as a practice identified among charlatan news media, particularly the social media.

This is what Zarrin says about clickbait journalism:

‘Clickbait’ is a term used for attention-grabbing headlines, mostly hyperbolic in nature, that encourage readers to click on article links. Oftentimes, these articles will get revenue from advertisers based on the number of ‘clicks’ the article will receive. Clickbait works. It feeds into human psychology because people are drawn to things that have shock value. Bottom line – you should be using Clickbait as a strategy to gain a larger audience.

Clickbait journalism approach is historical seen as a 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.
This is common among a number of social media and news websites which  thrive on thousands of click-throughs to content.
From the unethical point of view, many authors see the use of clickbait as a means to tap into human psyche by crafting these eye-catching headlines.

To feel what clickbait is doing to online news audience, one critic identified as Jill while writing on “… A look at Clickbait Journalism…. ” described the experience in these words:

My name is Jill, and I am a victim of clickbait. There are many more like me out there who can’t resist the catchy headlines, the articles that promise shocking tips to keep me looking 25 forever, or show me what it is that I will never believe happens when nine corgi puppies are put in a kiddie pool. If you’re like me, and you have found yourself falling into these clickbait traps, then you know the utter disappointment that you feel when what you’ve just read falls short of what the headline promised you, and that there actually isn’t any jaw dropping proof that “Bush Did 9/11”.

By 2014, the ubiquity of clickbait on the web had begun to lead to a backlash against its use. Satirical newspaper The Onionlaunched a new website, ClickHole, that parodied clickbait websites such as Upworthyand 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.

Clickbait journalism, though controversial, is practically the vogue in online news presentation.

Clickbait Practice Among Nigerian Online News Platforms

It’s been established that clickbait is a world wide practice among online platforms. The practice exist among Nigerian news platforms but the highest culprits of the unethical aspect of clickbait is the social media. You may find pockets of stories in mainstream media online platforms adopting curious headlines to attract audience attention.

But the bulk of social media operators bastardize clickbait by in most instances adopting headlines that take you into story only to either discover the story says something different or is too shallow satisfy your curiosity. Most popular blogs in Nigeria thrive on clickbait journalism. They grew to limelight on clickbait headlines and are managing their ‘success’ through clickbaits. Names of such platforms cannot be mentioned here for obvious reasons but if you’ve read this piece and you now understand the meaning of clickbait journalism, you can draw a list of long familiar names of blogs feeding on this practice without needing assistance.

Whether it is Nigeria or other parts of the world, the fact is that clickbait has lost its bite among audience members. Serious readers are now careful with bait headlines so most times first timers are the ones that fall victim to clickbait headlines.

People want traffic to their sites because that’s what advertisers want – sites with heavy traffic. Google also gives Adsense to sites with traffic. But quality content matters more than these and google checks quality content too.

As a starter, if you’re planning on relying on clickbait to succeed you might be making a big mistake.
Here’s what Jill says about quality content and clickbait-based shallow content:

For comparison, let’s now take a look at quality content that delivers on all levels. For starters, Google only ranks quality content. Whether or not a piece of content is considered “quality” is determined by a number of factors, including whether or not the content is fresh, whether or not it is expert level, and whether or not it provides the user with a great experience. We’ve already established that clickbait falls short in all of these categories. If you’re keeping score, that’s Quality – 3 and Clickbait – 0.

Getting more than just a click on your content is important when marketing to consumers, but once you enter the realm of B2B marketing, it becomes even more crucial that your content is high quality. However, like a lot of things in life, producing quality content is easier said than done. More and more companies are realizing its importance, and quickly trying to up their game. In a new B2B content marketing study by the Content Marketing Institute, marketers were asked to rank 28 marketing initiatives by order of priority. Creating more engaging/higher quality content ranked highest over things like conversion, optimization, and measurement.

Clickbaits do more harm to traffic than good, especially for serious news platforms. Readers who associate your platforms with consistent clickbaits may gradually begin to avoid the site since they are convinced that the content will not satisfy them. Serious organisation mght not advertise on your plartform too. It then means quality content is essential.

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a communication researcher with several years of lecturing experience in Nigerian universities.

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