Confessions of a Clickbait Victim: Quizzes, Controversies and Hitler Headlines
Surfing the Internet on a desktop computer
March 20, 2014


Editor’s Note: This is the third post in a series examining the influence of analytics on how news is produced.  Earlier this week, we posted about the declining influence of the pageview and why The Verge declines to share detailed site metrics with its reporters.

The Church of Journalism is beginning to worship a god of the technological revolution: the click.

With advertising revenues relating directly to pageviews, it has never been more important to write headlines that pop off the page.

And sites such as Buzzfeed and Upworthy have taken the headline game to a whole new level. For each Upworthy article, writers draft up to 25 different headlines and test them on small audiences to see which gets the biggest response, according to Business Insider.

With all this focus on headlines, I wanted to find out what attracts me to an article. So I kept track of which headlines I clicked and didn’t click on via social media over the course of a week.

As an 18-year-old journalism student, I was surprised at the lack of hard news I clicked on. Although I spent most of my social media time on Facebook during the test week, the news links I followed came chiefly from Twitter, because my Facebook friends were more into what would traditionally be called “features.”


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In short, they were more  interested in discovering what Disney princesses they were than what was going on in the Ukraine.

Here are the results of my clicking adventure.

Clicked: HUMANITY HITS ROCK BOTTOM: TEEN HAS SEX WITH HOT POCKET

Let’s start off with a bang. Puns aside, I clicked from Facebook because it was the Huffington Post, which sometimes has legitimate articles, and I was curious to see if there was more to the story than the headline. There wasn’t. I don’t know what I expected. Not my proudest moment.

hot pocket story

Huffington Post story

Clicked: Spritz reader: Getting Words Into Your Brain Faster

I clicked on this gizmag post because multiple friends on Facebook recommended it and the headline did a great job of hooking me in. It toys with this idea of reading faster than normal but forces me to click the article to find out exactly why. It turns out there’s app being developed called Spritz Reader that lets you read at around 500 words per minute. As an avid reader, I’m glad I clicked.

gizmag story about Spritz Reader app

gizmag story about Spritz Reader app

Didn’t click: Pencils Down: College Board Reveals Big Changes to SATs

My friend shared this NBC News post on Facebook. He said that the SAT was dropping the essay and obscure vocabulary words. These happen to be my two least favorite parts of the SAT. I ignored this out of spite. Had I read the article, my unbridled rage may have gotten out of hand.

SAT test story

NBC story on SAT test

Clicked: Clinton Compares Putin’s Ukraine Moves to Hitler and Nazi Germany

Nazi Germany? Hitler? I didn’t know Hillary Clinton had it in her. The controversy drew me to this CNN post that was shared on Twitter; comparing somebody to Hitler is a big deal, especially for somebody as prominent as Hillary Clinton. The article itself didn’t say much more than the headline did.

CNN story about Clinton

CNN story on Hillary Clinton’s comments

Clicked: 30 Restaurant and Fast Food Workers Reveal the One Item We Shouldn’t Order

I love fast food. When I saw this headline on Facebook, I thought it was about one fast food item that 30 different workers said to avoid, so it seemed pretty important to find out what it was. Turns out this article actually had 30 different items to avoid. The consensus: You probably shouldn’t eat fast food. Ever. As a true American, however, I will continue to eat fast food.

Thought Catalog story on food

Thought Catalog story about food items

 

Didn’t Click: Adorable 3-Year-Old Girl Will Give You Lesson of a Lifetime

I don’t care how adorable your 3-year-old is; she doesn’t have the experience to teach anybody the “lesson of a lifetime.” I saw this on Facebook, and I’ve seen links like this before. Usually they just show how innocent and naïve children are. This article should be retitled: Adorable 3-Year-Old Girl Not Yet Jaded By Society.

Clicked: Oscar Voters Admit They Didn’t watch 12 Years a Slave, Voted It Anyway

This took away any shred of credibility the Oscar’s had for me. I really didn’t need to know anything other than the headline, from cinemablend.com, but I clicked anyways from Facebook because it affirmed my assumption that the Oscars are all about politics. We all love being right, so I enjoyed this article.

Cinema Blend story on Oscars

CinemaBlend story about Oscars vote

Clicked: Quiz: What’s Your Patronus?

I got “horse.” How much did I have in common with the “horse patronus” personality that it matched me with? Absolutely nothing. At one point the quiz asked me about superpowers, which don’t have anything to do with the Harry Potter world. I usually don’t click on quizzes that my friends share on Facebook, but I like Harry Potter, so I figured I’d give this one a try. Never again. It reaffirmed my assumption that Buzzfeed quizzes ask you random questions and then arbitrarily match you with something. At least I was right about that.

Patronus quiz

Patronus quiz on BuzzFeed

 

Didn’t click: Quiz: What Strong Female Character Are You?

I learned my lesson with the last Buzzfeed quiz that was shared on Facebook. I don’t care what strong female character it will randomly match me with.  I have better things to do with my time and, frankly, I’m disappointed with the lazy way that Buzzfeed conducts its quizzes.

BuzzFeed quiz femaie characters

BuzzFeed quiz: Which Female Character Are You?

I got Xena: Warrior Princess.

Didn’t click: Quiz: What Breakfast Food Are You

No comment.

Buzzfeed quiz on breakfast food

BuzzFeed Quiz on breakfast food

 

Clicked: Never Before Have I Laughed So Hard at One Guy’s Non-Attempt to Save the Planet

This headline promised me laughs if I clicked it. It was written in a movie trailer style, teasing something yet not revealing anything. It was very effective in drawing my click, from Facebook. Unfortunately, it was just a glorified advertisement for an eco-friendly food brand. I left Upworthy feeling empty, as I always do.

Clicked: 7 Movies That Put Insane Detail into Stuff You Never Noticed

I’m a huge movie fan. This cracked.com list boasted potentially mind-blowing facts, but I had to click on the article from Facebook to find them out. This is a list headline done right. The article itself was well researched and entertaining.

Clicked.com movie story

Cracked.com story about movies

Comments
  • Lisa Rossi

    I applaud Cory Blair for being so honest about what he clicked on via social media for a week.

    This post raised a lot of questions for me on what social media, particularly Facebook, is really for. In many ways, it continues to be a self-affirming outlet where we are not necessarily looking to broaden our awareness. Perhaps we have to look elsewhere to do that. Thoughts? Anyone else want to chime in on what sort of articles they are clicking on via Facebook?

    • Elaine Huang

      Twitter and Quora seem to be great places to do just that. Facebook, on the other hand, might be more suitable for catching up purposes.

      I usually click on these:

      1) Anything that has got to do with technology/business (I work as a tech journo)
      2) Anything relevant to my interests (writing, travelling, pop punk)

  • http://www.elteto.net/ Adam Elteto

    “The Church of Journalism is beginning to worship a god of the technological revolution: the click.”

    And mobile phone journalism.

    And anything “social”.