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The Ethics of Clickbait

If you have visited the internet since 2009, chances are, you have been manipulated into clicking a random link at least a few times; hopefully it wasn’t one of those shady ones that max out your credit card within a few seconds. If it was, we apologize for bringing back bitter memories.

(Source - Google Images)

Where does it come from?

In essence, clickbait, as we know it now, can be considered derivative of sensational journalism, used in the event of war, a celebrity scandal, or, you guessed it, a global pandemic. It presented little or no legitimate news while making use of eye-catching headlines to lure people into buying the newspaper.

What’s wrong with it?

Clickbait has always had a negative connotation attached to it, especially, since its popularity during the age of the internet; and for the most part, its reputation is justified. To this day, it is still difficult to surf through Facebook without being slapped in the face by articles about ‘5 ways to use a paperclip’ or ‘25 DIY ideas using shoelaces’. The one thing that’s common amongst all these articles is that none of them have any substantial value to offer. Even after spending a couple of minutes on the paperclip article, you’ll find that the best way to use one would still be - to hold several pieces of paper together.

Not only is clickbait a waste of time, but it can also be extremely harmful to one's mental health. Ever spent a few hours on Youtube watching cat videos during work without realizing it? That is a collaboration between clickbait and the Youtube Algorithm. The algorithm takes one video that you have seen and suggests similar ones on your feed to retain your attention. These suggested videos, again, laced with clickbait, attack the dopamine receptors of the audiences’ brain making them click on the video even though they’re probably aware of the lack of value that said video has to offer.

It can’t be that bad, right?

In isolation, clickbait is nothing more than an elementary marketing gimmick. It grabs the attention of the viewer. Hence, it would be fair to say that it serves its purpose. Is it the most ethical way to get the desired outcome? Perhaps not, but does it work almost all the time? Absolutely

(Source - Google Images)

Take Mark Rober for example, a popular Youtuber who makes videos on do-it-yourself gadgets and conducts elaborate science experiments. Rober’s videos usually have clickbait titles and thumbnails. The format of his videos is always the same. He explains what the video is about and takes the viewer through everything he tried to get the desired outcome; only delivering what the title promises at the very end. In this case, the quality of the content is as amazing as it can be. There’s research, high-resolution video quality, and a takeaway for the audience; adding clickbait into the mix just ensures that the video reaches the most number of eyeballs.

(Source - Google Images)

Let's take another example, the l’oreal ‘ad for men’ campaign. It was an International Women’s day ad campaign demonstrating the need for female representatives in management and leadership roles. The campaign name contrasted with the design aesthetic and the product on display. L’oreal is popularly known as a makeup brand; any ad campaign by such a brand is not targeted toward men. However, the title “this is an ad for men” creates a general sense of curiosity, making the reader want more.

Essentially, the argument is pretty simple. Would you consider clickbait unethical even if you’re convincing your audience to click into a good piece of content that provides some sort of takeaway in an interesting format?

What are your thoughts on the clickbait debate? Drop your 2 cents in the comments below!


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