I consider myself a fairly sophisticated internet user. I know what to click, what not to click. I can easily identify a genuine email from spam, and I make sure to have different passwords for my various accounts. I can also tell low quality content from high quality content. Lately, however, I’ve noticed a sizable increase in clickbaity titles even from generally respectable sources: non-celebrity YouTubers, Washington Post, even /nosleep authors.
I chalked it up to a need for impressions and revenue, and dropped my guard a bit.
At first it was harmless.
I checked out the top five reasons why some political party will lose the next election, the ten best horror movies of the last decade, the tastiest vegan Thanksgiving recipes, etc.
I made sure to click only if I trusted the source, and it was actually kind of fun. The reading was light and fluffy.
But soon that wasn’t enough for me, and I became more reckless, venturing onto unknown platforms and websites, clicking links haphazardly, and feeling a deep, growing desire to know just how inappropriately customers behaved at Walmart or why the fourth photo on a list of amazing wildlife photos would blow my mind.
I couldn’t stop myself…
That’s when I found the ultimate clickbait title: The Ultimate Way To Avoid Clickbait! (Never Be Fooled Again!)
I clicked the link—
And you won’t believe what happened next!
Popup after popup opened on my screen, each emitting a hideous MIDI noise, as the screen flashed, Comic Sans fought Papyrus, and there were so many suggestive photos and exclamation marks that my laptop started to emit smoke!!!
I unplugged the cord but the battery was full and I watched the laptop start to melt into goo.
I ran downstairs.
“Honey!” I yelled. “You won’t believe what just happened!”
My wife ran out to meet me.
I explained it to her.
“Here are five reasons why you shouldn’t worry,” she said. “One, it was an old laptop. Two, you always wanted…”
I left her standing there and ran out of the house.
As I fumbled with the phone in my pocket, the mailman walked past. He smiled, I smiled. “I just delivered five pieces of mail to you, and number two will change your life!” he said.
But if I could count on anyone to be wise, measured and calm, it was my father. I turned away from the mailman and called him. “Dad, it’s me.”
“Norman! How are you?”
“Not so good.”
“Do you know who else isn’t so good today? Your mother. You forgot her birthday.”
He was right.
“Thankfully, I’m a definitive guide to making it up to someone after forgetting their birthday,” he continued. “I’ll also tell you the top ten gifts mothers love to get—”
I ended the call.
Clickbait was everywhere!
Even in my thought process, as I considered the best/worst ways to check my sanity!
Finally I opened Reddit and started writing:
I clicked on clickbait…