avatarColby Hess


Clickbait: The Cheap Plastic Crap of the Internet

Don’t waste my motherf*cking time

A World War II propaganda poster, c. 1942 (Public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever cracked open an egg only to discover it’s completely hollow inside, the golden yolk you were hungrily anticipating having somehow mysteriously vanished into the ether?

Or, have you ever bitten into a shiny, red apple, only to spit it out moments later, finding it bland, mushy, and flavorless, not at all the crisp, sweet lusciousness you were expecting?

Or how about this? Have you ever clicked on an article with a compelling title like “Einstein’s Prophetic Warning: 75 Years Ago, A Genius Predicted Israel’s Future,” only to feel completely hoodwinked upon realizing it doesn’t actually quote or even paraphrase that genius’s wise words, but only glancingly refers to them without context or substance or interpretation of any kind? And worst of all, you never even find out what the prediction was!

(That’s a real article, by the way. But I refuse to dignify it with a hyperlink or be accomplice to it getting more read time.)

What compels people to be so utterly disrespectful of their readers’ time? And having done so, what makes them think that anyone will cross that charred ruin of a bridge ever again?

I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s “one strike you’re out.” It’s “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Except there is no twice because they’ve already been muted.

It’s like those gals on Tinder who engage in “catfishing,” posting ten-years-old, sixty-pounds-lighter pictures of themselves, and I guess hoping you won’t notice when they come waddling up for your date? Sorry, but there aren’t beer goggles thick enough to Monet your way out of that one.

Or for the ladies out there, it’s like not being catfished, and the date going well — very well — until the very end that is, where you end up being “serviced” by a two-pump chump. Nobody wants that.

I simply can’t wrap my mind around the mindset of the clickbaiter. I mean, I get it. We’re all hoping for views. We all want to get as many eyeballs as possible on our essays (or articles, or stories, or blatant wastes of time, energy, and pixels, as the case may be). But presumably, you want to do so again and again.

Or even if you don’t, even if you think you’ll pen that one monumental ode to deception and make so much money off it that you can quit your day job and kick back sipping Mai Tais on a tropical beach for the rest of your days, is that really how you want to be remembered, as the Bernie Madoff of Medium?

There’s certainly an art to crafting a good title. And there’s a surprising amount of psychology underlying people’s reasons for clicking or not clicking on it. But regardless of what words you ultimately choose to go with, they have to deliver. They have to leave your reader feeling like they got what they ordered (even if they decide they don’t like it after the fact).

You can’t just offer them Dollar Store plastic crap that falls apart the moment you take it out of the packaging. Because even if people reliably purchase such crap (and they do, thus the prevalence of such stores littering the landscape of the underserved and the economically left behind), it doesn’t make the world a better place. It simply adds to the ever-growing, Wall-E-esque pile of detritus that’s drowning humanity in rubbish and stupidity.

As Gandhi famously never said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

It’s hard to think of an easier way to accomplish this as a writer than to simply not engage in clickbait. Make your titles catchy and compelling, yes, and make them count. But more importantly, make them deliver as advertised. If you do so, not only will your readers greatly appreciate it, but if they feel vindicated rather than violated, they’ll most likely come back for more.

Colby Hess is a freelance writer and photographer from Seattle, and author of the freethinker children’s book The Stranger of Wigglesworth.

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