Phony photos, outrageous claims, too-good-to-be-true contests, cute puppies, celebrity gossip — all these are wrapped up in headlines that move your mouse hand even before your brain registers what it's doing. This so-called "clickbait" exists for one purpose: clicks. And it isn't simply a distraction (although it is that). Clickbait actually does damage. It's almost always age-inappropriate for kids, it's potentially harmful to your computer, it spreads misinformation, fake news, and dubious sources, and it degrades everyone's collective experience of the internet.
The internet has increased the ability of anyone to publish content fairly inexpensively. Ad networks, such as Google's AdSense, allow websites to earn money off the number of clicks their ads receive. This business model has changed the traditional news-publishing model, which runs ads to support the publication. Instead, ad-supported networks create content in order to run ads on it. Obviously, the more outrageous the stories, the more clicks they collect and the more money they make.
Clickbait is tough to ignore, and it's hard enough for adults to resist the temptation to click; imagine how hard it is for kids, who are already distractible, impulsive, and lacking the executive functioning skills to thoroughly think through the consequences of their actions (in this case, getting stuck in a quagmire of nonsense). Understanding the techniques of clickbait and practicing mindful internet behavior can help us all resist the lure of outrageous stories, stay on task, and stop the spread of fake news.
Check out these classic clickbait techniques, and practice mindful clicking using the tips below.
Here are some clickbait clues to identify for kids:
- Headlines. Any bold claims, such as "You won't believe what happened next," are red flags that a story is clickbait.
- Weird GIFs. Animated images that illustrate something unusual and that lure you into investigating are usually invitations to scams.
- Make-money-at-home schemes. Anything that promises you can make money by not lifting a finger is fraudulent.
- Enticing photos. Scantily clad bodies, diseases, distorted images — these are all clickbait and lead nowhere good.
- Sales. Whatever you've shopped for recently often turns up in your social media feed or on your Google search results.
- Contests and gimmicks. Slogans such as "Share this!" or "You've Won!" tend to lead to more clickbait — and they may harbor malware.
Work on learning how not only to spot clickbait but to resist clicking on it.
- Feelings before. Before you click, think about what the headline is asking you to do and why. Pausing that extra moment de-escalates the impulse to click.
- Feelings after. OK, so you clicked. What did you see? How did you feel? Was it a waste? What could you have been doing if you hadn't gone down the rabbit hole?