Clickbait hurts real news consumption

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You’ll never believe No. 4… The real reason… This amazing secret…

These titles float tantalizingly on your screen, promising the best-kept secrets and must-know information from the interweb. You swim closer; your natural curiosity tells you to take a bite. You click and immediately regret your decision. Instead of finding intriguing, informative material, you are pulled into an article with a smattering of words and two dozen GIFs.

You’ve just been burned by clickbait, and you aren’t alone.

Whether we found it on a friend’s Facebook timeline or shared it ourselves, we’ve all fallen victim to the occasional clickbait article. The Internet has turned the world upside down, particularly with the way we obtain and circulate news stories. The Internet has also redefined what some people consider “news.” An unfortunate side effect of this is many of us get caught up in trivial articles or ones that don’t inform us appropriately.

My natural first reaction to clickbait is annoyance. However, it’s been helpful to understand why these types of articles have taken over the Internet.

The individuals running blogs, websites and reputable news sources alike are concerned with bringing traffic to their websites. Having an alluring title and photo that piques your curiosity is the perfect way to get more traffic, allowing website owners to charge more for ad space.

This is a race for your attention and that coveted real estate on your Facebook page.

Besides being misleading, clickbait bothers me because a “news” story will aggressively push the reader’s psychological buttons to get a reaction and prompt them to share the article while emotions are high. According to a study done at Beihang University in China, anger is the No. 1 emotion that impacts our online interactions, and websites like this will exploit emotions to get more exposure.

Post a half-baked summary of a controversial story involving a dead lion or transgender celebrity and watch the comments flow in.

While the world was arguing about these events, there were several huge news stories that many people missed. The Freedom Act was passed in congress, NBC was caught altering video footage concerning a police shooting, and the Transportation Security Administration failed an important audit.

Less important articles are overshadowing the news that really needs our attention.

So, how can we escape the downward spiral of unwise news consumption? Here are a few tips to help you be smart about the news you read and share:

Be wary of curiosity-exploiting headlines.

Before you click on something that sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t worth looking at. A good news title will summarize what is covered in the article. Articles that are obviously trying to draw you in by withholding information are probably guilty of luring you in under false pretenses. 

Avoid Buzzfeed, Facebook and Twitter for news.

Get the news on your terms. The articles that are often found on your timeline or sites like Buzzfeed are dumbed-down versions of the real stories that first appeared elsewhere. If you would like to call yourself informed on a topic, Buzzfeed is the wrong place to go. A great alternative for news on-the-go is a news app from larger news outlets. I use the Associated Press mobile app because I trust Associated Press and so do countless other news sources.

Get more than one point of view.

You should know by now that no matter how hard they may try, writers can never be 100 percent objective. Everyone has an opinion and it reflects in his or her writing. If getting informed properly is important to you, go the extra mile and find more than one news source to compare and draw your own opinion from.

The Internet has changed the way we get our news. With little adjustments in our habits, we can stay adequately informed through the right news sources.