Clickbaits – what you should know about them


Growing strong on the online territory, the clickbaits can be described as “black holes of information”. They have been widely criticised for promoting the “yellow journalism” – a form of poorly researched content that sugar coats its crumbling information with dramatic headlines. On Facebook, they seem to thrive and evolve in the fake news that influence opinions, sparks fierce debates or even scandals. But what are they and how do they function? We talked about the clickbait phenomenon with Ms Inés Olivares, soon to graduate the Goldsmiths University and become a psychotherapist.


What is a clickbait?

Clickbait is a term that refers to the way certain pieces of web content is stylised with the intention to persuade people to click on them. The audience is lured with sensational headlines, striking pictures, as well as exaggerated, tabloid look-alike stories. It does so with the aim to generate high traffic on the website hosting the content and to encourage people to share it.

How does the clickbait work?

A clickbait is designed to explore the “curiosity gap” of a reader. Firstly, it sparks one’s interest in pursuing the link by using sounding words such as “the best”, “favourite”, “scandalous”, etc. in its headline. Next, it convinces the reader it possesses information unknown for him/her; then it claims it can fulfil one’s endeavours to learn the missing information in a very simple way: by clicking on the link.

“The way a headline is presented – by not including the outcome of the situation or event – appeals to our natural curiosity, provoking a response in our brain once it is opened. Whether the information received is interesting or not, the reward centre of our brain is stimulated after clicking on the link and reading the article,” said Ms Olivares.

Which are the most used words contained in a clickbait’s headline?

According to a Buffer analysis of 3.016 headlines from 24 different top content sites, among the most used words are: “you”, “what”, “how”, “know”, etc.


List of the most popular words in viral headlines. Photo credit:

Ms Olivares explains these words are used as “linkers” and they contribute to the emotionally charged meaning of a sentence. Alongside other words, they “describe intense emotions and trigger strong reactions from the readers”. For instance, “What to do to impress your partner” or “How to love yourself, suggest the reader their content is the key to happiness. They also imply they deliver simple and straightforward solutions for the individuals’ daily problems – and so the readers click on them.

“Moreover, there are can link polarised words that represent two opposites poles of the same idea, such as “best” or “worst,” says Ms. Olivares. Such formulation prepares readers for how they will feel at the end of the article.

“The reader already knows if the news is positive or negative, and consequently how are they going to feel about it, or if they even want to connect with that information at all. In that way, the uncertainty is eliminated and the reader has a choice about his or hers emotional reactions,” adds Ms Olivares.


Why can’t people resist to the clickbait’s temptation?

Their desire to settle down the feeling of uncertainty is a promoter of their click impulse. According to Ms Olivares, when people are presented with partial information of a topic, it will “make them instantly curious”. “They [people] believe that if they click on the link, the doubt would be solved and the anxiety level for what is uncertain would decrease,” added she.

What is the most common layout used by clickbaits and why?

Usually, a clickbait will be designed as a listicle. The psychologists suggest that the predictability of a list allows people to develop a “schemata” – a mental map that categorises and presents the new information in connecting to the information already known. This cognitive system allows people to understand information faster and easily. The listicles appeal to the audience as it presents information in a clean and structured way.

“There is a psychological tendency to appreciate information presented within a structure, again to satisfy the desire of certainty and order in our life,” argues Ms Olivares

What makes people click on a story shared on social media?

We have asked University of Westminster student what makes them read the stories they read. Watch the video below to find out their answers:

This video doesn’t exist


How does Facebook intends to get rid of clickbaits?

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