This Couple Stopped Drinking Tap Water for a Year: The Results Will Shock You!
A distant relative to spam, clickbait has long plagued social media sites and search engines. The ever-important “click” generates more value than the actual content hidden behind the headline. Most of this is the direct result of a viral economy. Attention-grabbing headlines equal clicks. Clicks equal traffic. Traffic equals advertisers. Advertisers equal money.
That’s why clickbait headlines, like the one above, are typically designed to elicit an emotional response, similar to the psychological manipulation used by social engineers. But this isn’t a new phenomenon created by the internet. Newspapers realized back in the 1800s that hyperbolic headlines sell. The “EXTRA, EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT!” originally started as a newspaper extra, or special edition, that indicated a special news report. Hiring someone to “work” these headlines in the streets generated sales.
Of course, the difference between then and now is quite profound. Clickbait most often leads to useless, sometimes fabricated, content. At best, it tells you which Simpsons character or cocktail you are (and hundreds of other Facebook-generated quizzes that harvest your personal information) and at worse, it spreads manipulative, inaccurate, and irresponsible information (and can also lead to spam-filled websites with malicious content).
From security concerns to the deliberate and divisive promotion of false information, the dangers of clickbait require attention. So, what can you do about it?
Research before taking that social media quiz.
Before finding out which Hogwarts house you’ll be sorted into or which Walking Dead character you are, do some research about the creators of the quiz or trivia in question. A quick Google search may turn up stories of people’s accounts getting hijacked to send friend requests from a fake account. And as always, mind your permissions! Don’t allow a third-party social media app to access any personal information.
Don’t share unless you’re sure.
In this age of fake news and misinformation, the worst thing any of us can do is share something that later turns out to be false. This happens easily because headlines are written in such a way that they encourage a quick read and a quick share. Remember that clickbait is designed to elicit emotional responses (sort of like phishing emails), especially when politics are involved. Once again, do your research before sharing. Fact-checking may require additional work on your behalf, but a little bit goes a long way!
Support the sites you trust.
The internet may never be free of clickbait, but by supporting websites that create reliable, fact-checked, and accurate content, we can at least reduce the negative impacts. One of the side effects of the online economy is that of virality—where information’s quality is measured by popularity rather than accuracy or, well, quality. If we choose our sources carefully, and support them financially or otherwise, we’ll be less tempted to click on shock-and-awe headlines.
Think before you click.
As with all things security, a healthy dose of awareness and skepticism comes at no cost, but holds the most value. When you come across a headline with shock-value typical of clickbait, always question its legitimacy before clicking. Does it seem exaggerated? How likely will the content return valuable, reliable information? Take an “if it’s too good to be true, it’s likely not true” approach. Remember the intent of clickbait: to garner the ever-important click. More clicks equal good for them and bad for the rest of us.
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