You could say it started with this headline:
which appeared, context-free, on Instagram one day. “Sounds legit,” I thought. Then I googled it and realised I’d been punked by The Onion.
The Onion is, now, a website that publishes satirical news, but it’s been in the comedy game since it was born as a weekly newspaper in 1988. In 2014 The Onion launched Clickhole with the slogan: ‘all content deserves to go viral’ and it’s consistently very funny.
It begins with a click.
The internet is made up of links. To convince someone to click on a link, you have to present it in a way that excites or engages their curiosity. There are a bunch of strategies you can use to get the click, and one that has been overused over the last couple of years is called ‘clickbait’.
You know the type: “15 facts about lucid dreaming that will keep you up at night”; “25 things that everyone who grew up in country NSW can relate to”; “24 movies you absolutely must watch before you turn 30”. They pull at a primal need to know more, learn more, improve yourself. When you click through, you might have a good time with what you find, it might be funny or thought provoking. You’ll definitely have spent part of your life engaging with content that you felt compelled to read, whether it’s useful or not.
Clickbait is a machine. One person likes a piece of content: the next person sees it in their feed and engages. It gets ‘social proof’, which is a concept describing the extra legitimacy an idea gets when someone we know, or a whole bunch of people we don’t, have engaged with it. It’s why ‘likes’ are seen as being so important. You see someone you respect engaging with a brand or a piece of content – and you’re more likely to click.
Facebook and Google work on algorithms that consider things like ‘click through rates’ and ‘time on page’ when deciding what to show you. Facebook says that each time you log on, there are 1500 pieces of content that it could be showing you in your feed. The social network is always tweaking the algorithm to make sure you get the right balance of content from your friends and family, pages, and advertisers. The most effective piece of content is one that a page has convinced a friend of yours to like so that you see it by default. It’s what the premise of ‘going viral’ is built on.
When publishers create content, they build into it hallmarks that are more likely to make it go viral. A catchy heading that leaves you wanting to know more; a call to action that helps to frame your interaction before you’ve visited; bright, simple images that don’t overwhelm your brain. Massive publishers have worked out the winning formula and have replicated it: BuzzFeed, the premiere ‘clickbait’ source, has 7 million Facebook likes and spin off pages like Food, Video, and Parenting. Like one or more of those pages and you could easily have the majority of your Facebook feed be posts from BuzzFeed.
Trying to get cut through with your message, especially when you have a good one, can be frustrating when that’s the content ecosystem. Clickhole takes the sting out of it.
The Buzzfeed ‘Blindsiding Lessons You Learn In Your Thirties’ list includes:
People start to think there is something LEGITIMATELY wrong with you if you are single
You will now have divorced friends
The Clickhole “Things that change once you’re in your 30s” list filed under ‘Life’ includes:
You don’t get lost in the corridors anymore
You’re dressing better. When you look in the mirror, you see a professional-looking thirtysomething and dozens of men with no eyes lurking behind you.
Choose Your Own Clickventure
[clickToTweet tweet=”If you’re going to waste time, you might as well do it on your own terms.” quote=”If you’re going to waste time, you might as well do it on your own terms instead of being tricked into it. “] On Clickhole, you can take a ‘Clickventure’ where the site will present you with a scenario for you to click through. It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure, but slightly morbid, more than a little offbeat, with a language warning. And strangely satisfying.
Click venture Options include:
You’re at the zoo! Can you touch a camel?
You’re a self-driving car! Can you become sentient and go through a drive-thru?
and the Add To Life favourite,
Can You Survive A Zombie Apocalypse?
Thanks to Clickhole, the internet articles it takes off seem silly by comparison. It’s easier to not click them, because it’s never as much fun as clicking on a Clickhole article is.
Take Back Control Of Your Feed
Facebook has said that it’s cracking down on clickbait so more genuine content can get to the top of your feed. In the meantime, liking and engaging with Clickhole is a pretty fun way to make the most of it.