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I doubt I need to define click-bait for anyone, as surely it's a household term by now, but I would like to clarify what kind of click-bait I'm referring to, which admittedly is pretty much all of it, but mostly the more subtle click-bait that has edged it's way into our favorite websites, ones that were once respectable outlets. I'm talking about any manipulative article with a misleading and overly dramatic title that lures its potential readers into clicking. You know the ones, you probably see them daily on your Facebook feed and 8/10 times they'll have the word 'Jenner' or 'Amy Schumer' in them.
They used to be easier to avoid, and most of them were very clearly fake (i.e. "Ten Celebrities You Didn't Know Were Drug Addicts, Number 7 Will Shock you!") you'd have to go to specific websites to see it all, but now there are very few sites that don't have some sort of bait lingering around their social media. Click-bait is often a massive-who-cares mixed with childish gossip, celebrity stalking, and extreme theory stretching. It can be the most annoying thing you'll see online today, and God knows it's been bugging the hell out of me since I got semi-addicted to reading them.
That's right, I hate-read click-bait and I really wish I didn't. I read them sometimes because I'm falling into the trap they set with their vagueness, I really just have to know the answer to the question the title poses, and lately more than that, I really want to know if it turns out to be as pathetic as I assume it is, and if the comments on the post agree or disagree with me. Though luckily most of the comments are anti-click bait and make this known, I still leave somewhat offended by what I read. Yep, I hate-read the comments too, which feels even worse.
As a journalist myself I need to do market research, so I try to at least read as many article headlines as I can every day...but I guess I've just added the wrong sites because man oh man is my feed a depressing swimming pool of click-bait. I'd not only realized that the articles were annoying me, actually ruining my mood every morning, but that I'd almost gotten addicted to reading them; because I just had to know what they said and because I'd grown smug that all I was seeing was trash, and I had to prove it to myself. Here's how my week went.
The night before my first click-bait free day I decided to avoid setting an alert on my iPod telling me to avoid the articles, because I wanted to see how strong the usual habitual urge was to read them. And it was strong, I started to scroll as usual and remembered at the last second that today was the start of my detox. I quickly closed Facebook altogether without even checking my friends' updates and decided to boycott the app entirely for the full day, which just goes to show you how easy it is to read this stuff without even thinking. Instantly, and I mean as soon as I got out of bed, got washed and changed, and got onto working on a new article, I felt less like the world was out to get me. Since I didn't have any new trashy topics to mentally argue about in my head, my mood remained fresh and calm.I know that personally if I wake up to an instant bad mood then it can really stick with me for at least half of the day. I mean heck there have been studies on how misinformative click-bait can affect mood, and tons of articles on how damaging they can be, so it's not really a surprise that I'd begun to notice this pattern.
I woke up as usual, pull out my iPod as usual, but then remembered almost instantly that I had a goal to complete this week. I still wanted to see updates from my friends however so I carefully scrolled through the app, being sure to avoid "THE ONE THING YOU MISSED ON LAST NIGHT's GAME OF THRONES" titles, and any celebrity faces. I caught glimpses of quite a few headlines, sighing internally as I feel like just half-reading them made me a failure, but I didn't click. I checked Tumblr and get annoyed about some posts there, I can't help it, my anxiety makes me an easily irritated person and I hate it as much as you do reading this. But I began to notice the difference; I see racist and sexist posts on Tumblr that may fill me with annoyance, yet that annoyance is constructive, instantly it gives me fuel for another feminist article, unlike the click-bait that gives me fuel for literally nothing other than the article I'm writing right now. Anger is good if it causes social change, or if it helps you vent from a tough situation, but doing this experiment just reminded me that my annoyance at click-bait does nothing but upset me, unless I decided to act on it to somehow try to change the face of journalism, I suppose.
I felt so much better than I had done a week before, the liberated feeling of not getting caught in an endless scroll of click-bait not only makes me feel more positive, but I feel more productive. I check fewer social medias and get out of bed quicker, I gain agency by not getting wrapped up in a "just one more page" scroll. The one thing I did feel weird about that day was how out the loop I was beginning to feel. People would talk about things I had no context for. It didn't really matter, but it was confusing for a while. I suppose this is because click-bait is this decade's zeitgeist vessel, and even if we merely glance at the headlines we're getting a lot of the information via social osmosis. How do I know that Chrissy Teigen just had a baby, or that Azalea Banks said another homophobic slur? I can't even remember but I assume it was click-bait that told me I would NOT believe it.
It sounds dramatic, but by the middle of this experiment I'd begun to notice how clear my mind had become. It wasn't littered with useless information like the latest episode of a show everyone has already seen, who was getting divorced, who's dating who, whose dress accidentally showed which boob, and so on. And it wasn't filled with internal arguments with comments from bigoted authors. I don't mean to pretentiously dictate what is a "real" issue and what isn't, but I do know if a celebrity wants to have a private life then we should respect that and not make their issues our issues. So at the risk of sounding that pretentious, the real news I wanted to hear and discuss was being soaked into my brain much easier than before. Which makes total sense when you look at the research.
Something else I'd begun to notice with my click-bait detox was how many better ideas I was getting for my own journalistic articles, because when you're a writer who reads click-bait, it can be difficult to shake that style, particularly if some of the sites you write for actually want it from you. The academic ideas were coming back to me, and admittedly the articles (such as this one) that at first glance resemble click-bait, got more depth to them. Something odd did happen on this day however, as despite the fact that the urge to click had died off, on this day my brain seemed to forget that, and I automatically began reading the headlines, as if the previous four days hadn't happened. I avoided opening the articles, or comment sections, but I literally had to drop my iPod when I realized I was scrolling mindlessly. I suppose the creative boost I had gotten lately had made me forget that it was click-bait that had caused it to droop in the first place.
Despite the fact that this journey was very liberating, and I was feeling a lot less petty and grouchy, I still felt like a pastime had been taken away from me. The urge to click may have been gone, but it brought with it a sense of boredom whenever I finished looking at my friend's updates on Facebook. It was like I missed the feeling of physically holding a cigarette while I tried to quit smoking, that mindless scrolling while watching TV was like a tick I'd gotten addicted. That being said, I was looking forward to getting over it, and the day was nearly here.
On the last day of my detox, I took the biggest plunge. I denied reading an article a friend had sent me, I thanked her for the link and explained to her my detox, she understood and we talked about something else. I never ignore something that's sent to me so I felt bad, but I knew I had to do it. Trying to stay in the loop, and laugh at a petty article with a friend is a big part of why a lot of us read them in the first place, after all. That day I felt like I could go another week without reading any click-bait, and I considered it, but I know I have to test myself to see just how much I'd learned from the experience. That night I reflected over everything I had gained and lost from the detox; and typically I had gained way more substantial benefits; a clear mind, and a calmer mood being the main things I decided to take away from it all.
The next morning I decided to test out how I now viewed the click-bait articles, and the trolling comments. I went about my normal click-bait routine that I had before my detox, and it felt very weird. I got the same annoyance from the comments as I usually did, but part of me was numb to the articles themselves. Suddenly half way through one of the articles my second alarm went off, and usually I'd finish reading then get up. But I just ditched the article completely, and didn't go back. I think I managed to kill a part of me that HAD to read these things, and I'm so glad. They still annoy me, but mostly now only in principle rather than an active irate churn in my gut. Ever since then I've continued my boycott, reading the odd headline here and there, but now I know I can do without it, and that I can get out of bed in a chipper mood rather than an irate one.
So as I'm sitting here typing this, I look back at the title of this piece, and wonder how many people will hate-click it, or ignore it due to its formulaic title. And I can understand that, though this article is part of a series with the "And this is what happened" tag line, I understand it holds a vagueness that wants you to click for the answer. So I hope it's at least clear that this article was written with care, research, and personality.