Find out just how horrible we think click-baiting articles are—the results will surprise you, or warm your heart, or blow your mind or any other sort of sensationalist affective response. We hate click-baiting; frankly, we would rather go back to the days of liking every semi-relatable page than see a News Feed littered with BuzzFeed, Thought Catalog and Upworthy posts. It hurts the public, it encourages groupthink and it hurts us—those who want to go into journalism.
For one thing, click-bait is obnoxious. “Watch a homophobic dude hug a gay person, the results will warm your heart.” Seriously? Aside from being annoying, it is almost guaranteed that any issue they are attempting to bring attention to is horribly reductionist. Two-minute videos or 10-point listicles are not going to explore the nuance of an important social issue, which many of these profess to do—especially those like Upworthy. By comparison, BuzzFeed quizzes are relatively harmless.
That these lists are so reductionist means that its readers are hurt in two ways. Readers think they are being informed, but in all likelihood they are not. How much nuance and debate is really permitted in a video of a rich white man smiling at a homeless guy, or putting disabled people on display as inspiration porn?
It might introduce someone to an issue, especially if it goes viral, but some people are led to believe that enough viewings of the cat-calling video make them an up-and-coming feminist theorist. This obviously isn’t the case.
Second, this false sense of knowledge might make us less inclined to want to pay for a New York Times subscription, or even less likely to look at news outlets that do go into more detail than BuzzFeed ever could. In addition to creating a largely under-informed population, these companies profit off work that is often done for free—and exploit their labor—while hurting journalists who do this for a living. And this is all because people cannot be bothered to look further than Upworthy.
Journalism is already in decline with newsstand sales dropping 10 percent in 2013, and the easy accessibility of these websites might prove even more damaging. What does this mean for us journalists and for readers of click-baity sites? Should they change or should we? We are inclined to believe the latter—the devaluing of journalists’ hard work is hurting you and us.
We and other media writers work hard and we deserve recognition and pay for our work, and the same is true for the unpaid contributors to click-bait sites. They are being exploited, and your short attention-span is also being exploited as you spend your precious time reading listicles instead of learning about what is actually going on.
Hide some of these websites from your News Feed, spend some more time learning about the world. The results may surprise you.