You’ll never believe what this blog post is about

22 Jan
Was there really anyone who didn't believe Miley Cyrus kissed Ryan Seacrest?

Was there really anyone who *didn’t* believe Miley Cyrus kissed Ryan Seacrest?

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to avoid clicking on headlines and/or Tweets that are obviously designed to be seductive and alluring. It’s simply because I don’t like being manipulated, and this festering phenomenon is all about that sort of thing.

We’ve all seen them and we’ve probably all been suckered in by them. They’re headlines or Tweets that reveal only partial information, tantalizing us with the rest if we only click and thereby add to the purveyor’s traffic numbers.

The Huffington Post is a particularly big practitioner of this dark art. The news site’s Tweets are practically scientifically crafted to manipulate. Take “The country all food lovers need to visit, ASAP,” just one of the site’s many, many examples (posted Tuesday). Who doesn’t love food? And therefore, who doesn’t want to click on that Tweet? Not clicking would forever deny you information that you simply cannot get through life without.

It’s too bad the country in question is Belgium, a place that no one considers to be a hotbed of culinary creations. The site’s editors know this, which is why they didn’t go with the more informative – and more honest – Twitter headline on what is essentially a photo gallery of Belgian foods. Something like, “Check out Belgium’s underrated cuisine” would have been way more straight-up, but it probably would have attracted far fewer clicks. And yes, it’s clicks – not readers. I know I didn’t read the article after discovering it was about Belgium, but who cares – I added to the metrics anyway.

I’m not alone in objecting to this unfortunate evolution of the news business, which is why @HuffPoSpoilers has become one of my favourite Twitter accounts. They check out the alluring headlines and get disappointed so that you don’t have to.

The absolute worst lures are the hooks that try to get you to question your beliefs. You’ll know them because they always start with, “You’ll never believe…” and end with you wanting to slap whoever wrote the headline in the face for being so dumb.

Here’s the Washington Post, saying that, “You’ll never believe what doctors are using to fight gut infections: fecal transplants.” Fecal Transplants? Yuck, that’s gross. But is it unbelievable? Given that the story spends a good amount of time with scientists explaining that fecal transplants contain bacteria that can in fact be used in positive biological ways, well then yes, I’m inclined to believe that. Now, if doctors were using unicorn tears… well, that’s something I might have doubts about.

And then there’s Grind TV suggesting that, “You’ll never believe where these waterfalls are hidden (hint: it’s not Hawaii).” The answer is actually the Grand Canyon… you know, where there are canyons that are perfectly suited to having water – like maybe the Colorado River, which cuts through it – fall over them? Again, if the waterfalls in question were hidden in, say, the intestinal tract of a 3,000-year-old dark elf, I might be inclined to not believe it.

News agencies and websites have been using different tricks to attract traffic for as long as the internet has been around, but this relatively new – and spreading – tactic seems a little dirtier than most. With luck, it ends up biting its practitioners in their figurative butts as angry readers (like me) get turned off.

The lure to that story might be, “You’ll never guess how manipulative headlines are backfiring,” but the answer – as it always is – will be obvious.


Posted by on January 22, 2014 in media, Twitter


5 responses to “You’ll never believe what this blog post is about

  1. jvanl

    January 22, 2014 at 12:50 am

    The silver lining is that, bit by bit, media consumers develop greater market intelligence.

    Thanks for a helpful contribution.

  2. Jean-François Mezei

    January 22, 2014 at 1:40 am

    Beware what you ask for, you might just get it.

    As a result of your blog post, I will never believe what you have to say 🙂

  3. tomundone

    January 22, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    What’s even worse, IMO, is that many of these are displayed in the new “around the web” boxes on websites. The distinctive things about these ‘around the web’ boxes is that they are intended to look like the various regular site links boxes, and usually don’t indicate that they are advertising.

    Once you stop and look closely you realize they are just another slimy type of advertising, but few people do really ‘stop and look’. These are a big step forward in blurring the lines between content and ads.

    One of the worst offenders is disqus comments, which supplies these ad boxes to site owners.

  4. Kan

    January 22, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    i think CBC’s been getting in on the bandwagon a little bit lately too.. noticed that when i woke up this morning. “Have a fever? You might NOT want to take an aspirin or Tylenol. Find out why: ” “New technology aims to empty wait rooms at doctors’ offices ” “What’s the secret to aging? Ask a 94-year-old track star”

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