Yahoo! Journalist Paves The Way to Stopping Viral Content

FILED TO: Media and Entertainment

Everyone trying to do something vaguely serious in the media should get behind Yahoo! Tech journalist David Pogue. The former New York Times columnist has struck upon a rather ingenious way of stemming the relentless tide of viral content clogging up everyone’s Facebook feed.

The method? Providing spoilers to the clickbait headlines.

Some examples from David’s columns:

Clickbait: The three deadliest drugs in America are all totally legal

Spoiler:Tobacco, alcohol, and prescription painkillers. (Each kills more people than marijuana.)

Clickbait:This Is The Personality Trait That Most Often Predicts Success

Spoiler: Conscientiousness.

Clickbait: How I Got Kicked Out Of The 9/11 Museum

Spoiler: A reporter is asked to leave the 9/11 museum after witnessing a minor verbal altercation and trying to ask one of the participants a question. The museum’s guidelines prohibit reporters from interviewing people, so museum patrons can ponder and grieve in peace. Reporter feels victimized.

Clickbait: Nobody Expected THIS To Happen When These Four Women Walked On Stage. Whoa!

Spoiler: Four women in black cocktail dresses — two violinists, a cellist, and a piano player — perform while holding their instruments in various amusing positions.

Creating content online is a tough gig, and there is a serious need to create sustainable business models to keep journalism alive.

Clickbait websites like ViralNova, UpWorthy and Buzzfeed have hacked the current system that thrives off pageviews; generally speaking, advertisers pay for the amount of times a page is loaded on a website, so the more times an article is clicked on, the more money it generates. Unless you have a dedicated sales team and a very strong brand, media companies have to rely on shitty, third-party ad networks to generate revenue. Ad networks don’t pay much per-click, so the trick is to get volume as fast as possible.

Sadly, that means most of the content on the internet is complete and utter crap.

One could be sympathetic to the nonsense generated by viral content farms given the general financial state of the industry, but it is short-sighted and misguided. Buzzfeed is raking it in at the moment, but it is poisoning the industry, drowning out smaller players by sucking up people’s attention with mindless gibberish. The ‘content’ created by supposed writers isn’t good and doesn’t take much skill. Sure, there’s an art to creating eye-catching headlines, but once you know the formula, it’s about as hard as posting a photo to Facebook.

Off the top of my head, here are three headlines I’m sure would get a lot of traffic:

“This Man Proposed to his Girlfriend on Television. What She said After Was Shocking”

“This Looks Like an Ordinary Office. But Look Closer and Your Mind Will be Blown Forever”

“15 Events That Changed the World. #8 Devastated Me”

That took all of 40 seconds.

It may sound harsh, but the sooner we find a way to ruin their business model, the better. One way to start is by providing spoilers to as many articles circulating as possible so that people don’t click on them.

Bravo, Mr Pogue.



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  • David L.

    It is extremely unfair for high-quality-content, non-clickbaiting sites (i.e. TDB) to be trampled on by giraffe-shit-peddling youtube video aggregators like Buzzfeed.

    Ben, you’re to be commended by everyone who places a minimal value on good writing and by-the-books journalism for not jumping on the easy-clickbait-bandwagon when it’s been proven that the latter method rakes in a lot more cash than old-school opinion writing and reporting. I’m sure it was a tough choice to make, but ultimately that decision makes loyal readers care about the success of the Banter and invest time in word-of-mouth ‘publicity,’ while ensuring we come back every day to see what some of the most talented pens (keyboards?) in the world of blogging have to say about the news du jour (I even make an exception and turn off my Adblocker for you guys).

    Every time I glance at the Facebook plugin on the right side and see the number of followers grow, I am more convinced that slowly, but steadily, TDB will eventually climb to the top of rankings and find success without resorting to sensationalism and misleading headlines. Give it a few years’ time, and the Banter will be a major reference for political junkies, not just in the US, but with a supportive fanbase spread out all over the world. Smart moves such as hiring people like Tommy and having a diverse assortment of intelligent contributors definitely help the cause.

    Remember, the colossus known as Daily Kos started out as a personal blog from some unknown vet who had a beef against Dubya; twelve years later, it has millions of daily pageviews and hundreds of thousands of registered users. Obviously, the design of this site is different from dkos, but the same principle applies: progressives generally want to read thought-provoking pieces on the exact same issues the Banter tends to cover, and couldn’t care less about superficial, horribly-redacted listicles on some banal buffalo-dung they’ll forget about anyways two minutes after munching up the bait.

    All in all, keep up the phenomenal work, keep fighting the UpViralBuzzWorthyFeeds with good fucking writing, and Banter on!

  • courtbt

    For the record, I loved the female classical quartet. Every now and then, something truly is worth watching. I just wait til it shows up more than about 10 times on my newsfeed.

  • edhazer

    Spoiler: Completely impractical solution to dealing with obvious rubbish links.

  • Dizivi

    That’s exactly what we need: a Clickbait Spoiler website.

    Buzzfeed, Gawker, TMZ, Huffington Post, and all sorts of websites are all for the picking.


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