To Click, Or Not to Click? A click bait adventure

You Can't Not Click: Weighing the Pros & Cons of Clickbait

Gotcha!!

Clickbait is everywhere! and the science behind it is inherently fascinating to me.  

So I thought it would be a cool experiment to purposely succumb to my curiosity and embark on a clickbait adventure. So what is clickbait? Just about any content can be considered clickbait, news stories, blog posts, interviews, infographics, or videos. Most often, clickbait will have these properties.

  • Catchy headline
  • Funny or memorable images/clip  
  • Humorous tone, or a statement that evokes a strong emotion

Preparation:

Before I set off on my Clickbait adventure, I had to ensure that I traveled with protection. So I found the closest, most dangerous neighborhood I could find and asked where to buy a vehicle with fake plates, preferably one that also had VIN number scratched off….metaphorically speaking. In reality, that meant installing a fresh copy of Ubuntu via the Red Hat Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) module. The Redhat KVM module is the Linux kernel that allows a Linux based computers to function as a type 2 hypervisor. Thug life baby! My pimped out virtual ride had 22 cpuCores (totally unnecessary), 8GB of ram a 16GB disk drive. The metaphorical fake plates and VIN numbers that I mentioned earlier came curiosity of a Firefox add-on called User agent Switcher. This add-on allows users to change the OS information that websites see when a user visits their site. In my case, I am spoofing my browser to look like Safari 13 running on the MacOS operating system. This configuration was verified by visiting the website “whatsmybrowser.com“. And in if your wondering did I use a VPN? Of course I used a VPN…I never leave home without one. No seriously…I have an app on my phone.

isys8621 virtual machine

Stop # 1: The red circle of nothing

What was here? Not much. The link took me webpage that had one sentence. That one sentence being an extended version of the same headline that brought me here. Other than that, there was no actual news about the Canal. However, the webpage did contain a plethora of advertisements. The red circle clickbait got my attention by highlighting ummmm nothing! So because I saw nothing, I assumed I missed something and clicked on the link only to discover ads for Pots, Pans, Nike Sneakers, and more clickbait.

Stop # 2: Everyone likes saving money

What was here? Clicking the image above took me to site claiming to reveal 7 Discounts Seniors get if they ask. For starters, the site only listed one discount, and it was related to home insurance. Taking this adventure seriously, I did as the website requested and clicked to see if I qualified. The questionnaire asked for lots of Personal Identifiable Information (PII )except for my social security number. My favorite question was “phone number” I eagerly entered 867-5309! and within seconds I was pre-approved! The top rated provider was unitedstatesinsurance.com. A quick whois lookup revealed that the owner of this site used a proxy service to purchase the domain. This service would hide the identity and contact information of the person, company, or group that registered this domain. A little fishy if you want my opinion. Time to move on.

Stop # 3

1 CARB Tortilla from MR.TORTILLA - Unboxing & Review - YouTube

1 Carb Tortilla

I like Tacos a lot! When this ad popped into view, I clicked without hesitation. To my pleasant surprise, it was real! Everything about the site was real. The person holding the bag was real, the company was real, and best of all, the Tacos inside the bag was really 1 carb! It turns out that this San Fernando CA based distributor has been actively marketing though social media to promote their new low-carb tortillas. A quick look at the ingredients list showed the first ingredient is oat fiber. Huh? Okay, let’s look that up. Results -> Oat fiber is an insoluble, non-digestible fiber made from grinding the oat hull, which is the shell that surrounds the oat groat (or kernel). Oh I get it! Someone found a way to turn a profit using the thing they were going to throw away when they make Quaker Oatmeal. Brilliant!

So how is my click bait adventure related to Digital Transformation? I think its fair to say that while the mechanisms used to consume news have changed with time, the human physce hasn’t changed much since its initial release. With this in mind, literally and figuratively, news outlets, advertisers, and bad actors have amassed thousands of years of behavioral data. Jeff Hammerbacher, a former data scientist at Facebook, has been quoted as saying “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.” I think Jeff is right but I also think this level of manipulation has been going on forever. Time is money and 3 seconds of your time is collectively worth billions.

If you are so inclined to personally visit any of the sites I mentioned, please leave a message in the comments and I will forward you the URL’s.

10 comments

  1. abigailholler1 · ·

    I have definitely fallen into the trap of clickbait, especially growing up as an early user of the internet. Whether it was outrageously fake celebrity news, or a catchy headline, clickbait can be unknowingly curious and persuasive. I would be interested to understand which generations are most susceptible to clickbait headlines. In other words, since becoming a more mature user of the internet, I’d almost forgotten about clickbait since I rarely interact with sites that use these tactics; and when I do, I can often decipher whether a headline is real or fake. But flash back to my high school years, and it was a very different picture. Additionally, I think your example above on Senior discounts at Walmart begs the assumption that clickbait headlines are geared towards a specific age group or subset of consumers. I’d bet there is more strategy behind the clickbait-y titles and funny photos, but maybe I’m giving these sites too much credit!

  2. lisahersh · ·

    This was a wild ride from start to finish!!! I love that you started the post with an in-depth description of the safety precautions you had to take prior to going on this journey. I would never have even considered doing an experiment like this simply because of the pop-ups that would invade my computer afterward. I actually always have a moment of panic when I accidentally click into these ads – the fact that any of them are real (and that there is such a thing as 1 carb tortilla) is mind-boggling to me.

    I also appreciate how you discussed the psychological elements and thought that goes into clickbait. I think you’d find this WSJ article fascinating: https://www.wsj.com/articles/mobile-ads-do-more-work-in-one-second-than-you-might-think-11551870001#:~:text=Mobile%20advertisements%20begin%20triggering%20reactions,industry's%20emphasis%20on%20longer%20exposures.

  3. I have installed Ad Blockers to my browser but I still stumble upon click bait like this. I usually never click it but sometimes I will fall victim to the trap even though I’ve seen time and time again that its usually a bunch of junk. I think of myself as someone who’s probably smarter than the average person, so I can see how a lot of people end up clicking on these articles and blogs frequently. If instead of trying to fool people into buying some fake product or selling advertisements, it would be great if the click bait was for something that could actually make people more intelligent. Unfortunately, people usually click on those things because they are attention grabbing and any effort to educate people who are browsing the internet would fail.

  4. lourdessanfeliu · ·

    Very good post!! I have in the past clicked in some click baits without realizing it would lead me to some very sketchy sites. The company I work for has been giving us more and more trainings on how to spot click baits, phishing emails etc as it seems they keep getting better at getting people to click on them.

  5. changliu0601 · ·

    Great Post!Every time I read the news after online shopping, the clothes that pop up are the ones I added to my shopping cart but without paying.So distracting!!!I don’t know whether to read on the news or turn to shopping to buy them.I’m worried about getting into these ads and getting a virus and someone stealing my information.These ads make me nervous.Like a “click trap”

  6. Jie Zhao · ·

    I also installed Ad-Block to my browser so luckily I rarely see posts. But sometimes when I do see promotion posts or anything that are too good to be true, I’d open it up in an incognito tab. Not sure if that helps but I feel a little better that it won’t be saved as my browsing history and don’t want to be targetted for more ads. I feel like there should be more awareness to educate people to be more careful / not to click on these sketchy sites, especially children or elderlies who may be more likely to fall for scams.

  7. courtneymba · ·

    Awesome post! I love how scientifically you approached this and with such calculated precautions lol! I also have always wanted to do this and am so glad you shared this. When I see these types of ads, it makes me wonder what other taglines they A/B tested before they settled on this version to try to entice me. Also that 10 Commandment joke is hysterical – 7th commandment is “Thou shall not commit adultery” lol! (thank you, Google)

  8. Great post. Clickbait has been the bane of my existence for years. What I think is more interesting is that we have so much data science that is poured into it. Generally its funny to see how the algorithms serve up different data on different sites. For example, ESPN tends to have blogs dedicated to players wives or who are they now celebrity photo galleries, whereas news sites that frequent tend to have exotic travel content. This type of information will only get smarter and smarter and will be interesting to see where it evolves.

  9. OK. This goes on my list of one of the favorite blogs of the semester! Awesome!

    1. Andrae Allen · ·

      Domo Arigato Kane-san

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