“New media believes the consumer is always right. New media gives people what they want,” said an expert in viral content, Emerson Spartz.
Particularly in first world countries, Facebook and Twitter are fast becoming the main places where people come across their news – ahead of television and news sites. “Success” is becoming about the number of reads, shares, likes, upvotes, and re-tweets – making it easy to lose sight of what really defines the usefulness of an article: political impact.
The path to viral content is partly luck, and partly understanding that people often share articles as a placard to declare their identity. Positive stories and emotions do well, Spartz points out – but this often leads to decontextualized stories about random individual acts dominating our information (our understanding of the current world) over articles that decode the empire ways of the US, the global persecution of refugees, the systematic starvation of millions, the trade agreements that will ruin rivers, and so on. And by ‘do well’ – Spartz meant for advertising revenue due to clicks. His “new media”, also known as clickbait, is about technological algorithms and profits, not journalism.
What is clickbait?
Clickbait is internet content aimed at generating advertising revenue at the expense of accuracy. It tends to be shallow, and relies on emotional hyperbole and social media networks. Its rubbish for profit, the internet version of tabloids – ads pretending to be articles, and exploitation of curiosity, women, selfishness, and more in order to get readers. While good journalism is about articles that need to be written, that have something important to say, clickbait is content that is done just for the sake of it.