Questions about the war on clickbait

“People tell us they don’t like stories that are misleading, sensational, or spammy. That includes clickbait headlines that are designed to get attention and lure visitors into clicking on a link.”

Facebook blog

So Facebook has declared war on clickbait.  The post defines three categories.

“Spammy” I can understand. But we already have protection built into our email services — and, hopefully, our minds.

As we enter the third decade of the Information Age, every man over 12 should be aware that nothing on earth, short of a massive implant, can add 6” to his penis. Similarly, no one answers letters from a Nigerian prince who wants to give you a vast sum of money (but first you have to fork over some of yours). And by now I know that cheap prescription drugs of all kinds can be bought without a prescription from places in Asia I never heard of.

These aren’t a problem for those of us who use spam filters. Ads, yes – hard to avoid those, especially for things I buy. But I haven’t seen any of the out-and-out rip-offs for years. Thanks, gmail!

But I find the other two categories troublesome. They go WAY beyond Facebook and go to the very basic issue of the relationship between the title and the rest of the communication – and even to our ability to exercise free will.

No catchy leads?

If the goal isn’t to write a catchy lead, then generations of advertising copywriters have been wasting their lives. It’s the lead that convinces you to examine the rest. So print ads lead off with “read-bait,”; radio ads, with “listen-bait”; and TV ads, with “watch-bait.”

As to whether the rest of the ad delivers what the lead promised…well, leaf through a magazine and decide for yourself.

The lead typically addresses your need for the product/service. If you don’t need it, the lead doesn’t have a chance. But advertising operates on a shotgun principle (no matter how hard they work on targeting and focusing) – put the ad out there often enough, and someone who might need the product will pay attention.


Here’s POINT ONE, and I will make it several times: YOU decide whether to read or watch. The lead may generate interest, or the interest may already be there, but YOU decide whether to move to the next step and learn about the product benefits and/or the product experience.

Headlines – same principle. Headline writing is really an art-form. More read-bait, with the material in the story expanding upon the lead (where, when, why, etc.).

The titles of magazine articles are equally catchy (except technical journals – no humor there), so if you’re interested in the subject, you’ll give the article a try.

Book titles are all over the map. In the business/management and self-help categories, the titles try desperately to trigger at least an inspection and maybe a purchase decision. But in many categories of books, there’s no relationship.

Let us review POINT ONE: the decision to proceed from lead to body is voluntary.

How can anybody object to (examples from George Avalos’ Mercury News article) “How much is your home worth?” Or “My foolproof way to end snoring”? There are a thousand snoring remedies, and one might work for you. (And this is a real problem: As Jimmy, the Zyppah guy, puts it, snoring can be cruel to the bed partner, as well as an economic disadvantage if one is not alert at work.)

So…do we really want Facebook making these decisions for us?

The atrophy of discernment

Sure, cut way down on the irrelevant ads and spam. But can’t WE decide if a title is misleading, if claims are inflated, if “news” is outrageously fake? Can’t we be allowed to exercise a modicum of skepticism?

If it sounds too good to be true (like the plethora of untested, unregulated supplements that will cure whatever ails you and let you live to 120, with just two pills a day), don’t click (unless you’re desperate). If it promises a lewd or grotesque spectacle, don’t click (unless you need a minute of respite from your boring routine). If it seems beyond the bounds of reality (think National Enquirer headlines, e.g., Trump’s plans for launching World War III — actual example), don’t click.

But come on, Facebook, don’t take that choice away from us. Do not contribute to the continuing atrophy of our ability to judge and discern and CHOOSE. Let the lead-writers do their worst, and we will flex our skepticism muscles, decide we have better things to do, and just…not…click