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Clickbait is a promotional tactic that involves enticing a person (with bait) to “click”, or otherwise select, a link which oftentimes has an adverse effect or result for that person.

Many of these include some generic phrasing that leaves much to the person’s imagination:

  • “You won’t believe what this person did.”
  • “It’s so simple to do with this one weird trick.”
  • “They were about to fall for it, and I was amazed what happened next.”

Some appeal to another sense of curiosity, including

  • reading random lists (e.g. famous divorces you didn’t know about, hilarious memes about the 90’s)
  • news articles that contain emotional trigger words (e.g. politically leaning articles with vitriolic language)

And another set appeal to your sense of fun and games, including

  • personality tests (e.g. pick a flower to see what your personality is)
  • knowledge tests (e.g. 99% of people can’t answer these correctly)
  • meme generators (e.g. share your Facebook image to find out what you’d look like in another gender/ten years older)

Potentially Unethical (Black Hat) Practices

Note the last example is an obvious request for your personal information, though for seemingly innocent fun and games. Hopefully, if it is a trusted website with a solid privacy policy, the personal information is immediately removed upon submission (e.g. Facebook caches the post results for a long time, but the page it called to display the post on your timeline may have been erased and will appear broken years later).

The most obvious clickbait are the first two sets regarding going to another website that displays numerous advertisements, potentially including buttons you must select to get to the next portion of a list or article with additional advertisements displayed. Advertisers pay for space on these websites, so they can generate ads. The website owners, like mainstream media, can afford to post articles to the public for free using this strategy.

While many websites using advertisements can be trusted for the most part, not all advertising companies check their ads for bad actors, though. Some contain malicious code that may harm your property (e.g. computer devices, user accounts) or track personal data off your computer devices (e.g. browser search results, email accounts, product purchases). As it is, some common email and social media platforms do a lot of data tracking on you already, but they are not supposed to be selling it to third-party vendors without your consent (see Smashing Magazine’s Ethical Design: The Practical Getting-Started Guide on surveillance capitalism).

That brings us back to the lattermost set where you give websites permission to use your personal information to display fun results. Some websites are doing more than they claim when they get approval from you. If safety measures do not require them to inform you of what they are receiving from you and everything they will do with that information, then there is a higher possibility they are practicing black hat strategies.

What You Can Do

Do not add these links to your website or share them on social media platforms.

In addition, keep in mind how you promote your own products and/or services, and avoid similar baiting phrases in your websites, emails, social media posts, and digital advertisements.

Many advertisers can claim large impression numbers or click-throughs on your digital ads. When you collaborate with Web Services to track your advertisements, we can help you determine if your content is not what people are expecting when they select your ad. This will help us improve your messaging both on the ad and on the landing page the ad points to, to better inform your audience of what they should expect.