Why Are We Sick of Sensationalist Headlines?

It’s hardly a rare occurrence on our social media pages nowadays: the sensationalist headline that speaks to us in second person, telling us what we will feel, exclaiming the unbelievable nature of the content that you must click on right now. Have you ever thought for a second why these headlines quickly become an annoyance rather than an enticing click or share? It’s the way they’re structured. Nearly every sensationalist headline is formulated the same way: a direct call to action using pronouns that address the reader directly, add in a few adjectives and adverbs in all caps and presto! Instant headline. In fact, it’s so simply structured that you can even create a random generator with all the sentence structure parameters programmed into it! Oh right, that already exists! Check out Upworthy Generator, a site that creates those oh-so-familiar headlines you see floating down your Facebook wall.

The point is that people crave original content. When something so formulaic gets rehashed over and over again, they subconsciously pick up on the patterns, it gets stale rather quickly. So what should you do instead of supplying a vague statement and a call to action? Be upfront and honest with your content. Say what the content is and why you found it useful. Don’t be afraid to share a link again a few weeks later if you feel you didn’t get enough clicks or views; the process of creating worthless clickbait content as a one-off page to be forgotten is not and should not be a viable business model for anyone. Quality counts.

Did You Even Read It?

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Who’s to blame for the latest trend of posting links with sensationalist headlines? It’s hard to tell, but we all know one thing: it’s working. Well, working in that people share the content, but failing in that most people don’t even access the content for more than just the headline or the first paragraph. In fact, I’m amazed at its effectiveness. Viral content from over 10 years ago have come back with shiny new headlines and rekindled a long dead netpidemic (let’s see if I can make this term trend!). This is the latest craze, the best material we can find, and the perfect method of gathering data on the unsuspecting public through social media channels. They know where you’re coming from, and often these articles of extreme exaggeration have social logins that not only broadcasts what social sites you use, but also with whom you’re sharing the content. Other bits of data include how long you’ve stayed on the page, whether or not you’ve scrolled all the way down (that’s why some pages load partway until you scroll), and even where your mouse lingers and for how long (Clicktale). And that’s just the tip o the iceberg! If you really want to know how many ways a site is tracking your actions, install the Ghostery app. I mean just look at this. ghosteryThere are TWENTY different tracking tools and social buttons! Most sites have a hard time coming up with 4!

So what’s wrong with it? Some will say it’s harmless fun, but in my opinion, it perpetuates the spread of inaccurate data, compromises you and your friends’ right to privacy, and clutters up our social media feeds. So what can we do as users? What can the owners of these sites do as content producers? For the latter, try producing quality content without resorting to sensationalist headlines! It’s hard work, yes, but you shouldn’t have to lure people into sharing your content without actually reading your content! Why bother with any articles at all? You’d do just as well to simply have the headline and a pretty image to with it. As users we can stop sharing Clickbait content. Or at the very least we can read the articles and THEN decide whether or not it’s worth sharing! Content producers create these sensationalist headlines because people are sharing them, and people are sharing them because they’re too lazy to read. If no one takes the first step, then we’re never going to get anywhere, the content’s going to get worse, and your private information becomes that much more of a commodity. You have been warned. Now stop it!