Scrolling down Facebook. Your eye catches a headline. Index finger shakes. Click me! Click me!
You keep scrolling down, assured of your hulking free will. Time is too important to be wasted.
You scroll up and click it. Ahhh!
That situation illustrates the power of headlines—especially in the social media era. Some headlines are considered clickbait (defined by Facebook as “links with headlines that encourages people to click to see more without offering much information about what will be viewed”).
Oh, but they’re so enticing, so click-a-licious! Indeed they are, but potentially a drain on the day’s schedule as well. Time is certainly too important to be wasted, as mentioned, and Facebook and its coconspirators devour much of it. As one marketing expert said: “Did you know that on average, you spend 3.6 hours a day on social media sites? That’s roughly 25% of the time you’re awake.”
To save time and gain some semblance of free will, we can categorize some of these headlines in order to understand why we often seduce fall down unwanted rabbit holes:
The Emotional Sugar Rush Headline
It typically mentions some mundane object, activity, or animal—along with alluring verbiage like “added,” “entered,” or “what happened next” (or something like that). Then promissory expressions with “unbelievable,” “breathless,” or “stunned” are added to the end (or something like that). It’s what would happen if Hitchcock tweeted.
Most of these articles leave readers “speechless” because they are a waste of time. The reader is “amazed” at themselves for their gullibility.
I once interviewed with a company as an editor whose sole task would be to write these type of headlines. Fortunately for somebody, they passed on me. I was “stunned.”
The Big Brother Bother Headline
This is an inviting link to a post explaining the results of leaving a webcam on without anyone there (except pets or ghosts, or both).
It’s usually the dog if you’re wondering. In the supernatural genre articles, it’s a passing shadow that must be the great grandmother of whoever lived in the house.
The Scientific Breakthrough Headline
These headlines are as prevalent in tabloids as in the internet. Same as it ever was, in the spirit of Talking Heads. On the web, it’s more focused on artificial intelligence, driverless cars, or the takeover of robots.
Towards the end of these pieces, there is the usual caveat of “It is still years away” or something in that vein—based on the research of some lower-level scientist in a corporation or government lab. Of course cures for cancers, weight gain, or hair loss remain popular for many Facebook users and their News Feed.
The Public Figure Apocalypse Headline
These deal with some public figure preferred by the linking site addressing another public figure disliked by the same linking site. This is followed by violent verbs such as “schooled,” “annihilated,” or “destroyed.” The message of the headline makes it seem that some politician, celebrity or activist has just been verbally but fatally wounded in an argument. There is no turning back. Their careers are over can be the only result after clicking this headline.
Some examples are:
(And yes, all political bottom-feeder websites utilize these headlines. Stewart or Maher just happen to be widely seen as funny and thus are more pertinent.)
Obviously, neither the headline nor article is true. Public reputations can survive criminal sentencings and other falls from so-called grace in this era, and yesterday’s interview is quickly forgotten because tomorrow they’ll be right back on the same show.
The Berlin Top Gun Headline
This is a combination of the above two headlines, with something like “speechless” or “no comment” in the text. It’s such an important story that nobody can answer it, certainly not those being assaulted in the story!
Sorry, but interruptions by the host, commercial breaks, or navel gazing-responses does not make a guest “speechless.” However, these headlines tend to take a partisan’s breaths away after they are clicked.
The List Headline
I know what you’re thinking. The irony of this article is not lost to me (or is it hypocrisy instead of irony?). It had to be mentioned, though, as the promise of a list in a headline is one of the chief ways to incite a click. Western culture loves to catalog, define, and rank everything, from restaurants to top scenes with Elsa and Jack Frost that haven’t been made yet.
Are you kidding? You’ll likely run into many before the day is over.
There are other types of headlines, but these are common in traditional media: personality quizzes, math problems, meme themes, sly product advertising, desperate “buy me” or “act now” calls, and so forth. Please let me know if you have your own categories.
There is nothing wrong with presenting a captivating headline to create web traffic. The problem is that the types mentioned and others are often anticlimactic (at best) and misleading (at worst). Sometimes the headline of the article doesn’t even match that of the Facebook News Feed!
More than ever in a frenetic, digital society, every second counts in our lives to be productive individuals, and so does every click. Click well.