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A guide for internet-naïve parents to identifying clickbait articles


Clickbait websites are the tumors of the internet.

Some of them are benign, and maybe even a little helpful. Let’s be honest, though; you’re not going to use everything from that list of useful websites.

Some of them are malignant and waiting to metastasize, using a really gruesome (and Photoshopped) picture to get you to click. This often exposes your Facebook account or computer or both to some virus-y thing, which posts to your Facebook, sends messages to all of your friends, and/or sends emails to all of your contacts.

The shared goal of all clickbait headlines is to increase traffic to their websites.

It doesn’t cost you anything but time–well, time is money–but because all they want is traffic, people who get sucked into looking at clickbait articles often don’t realize that they’re wasting a lot of time on empty distractions. Do you want to waste time on empty distractions? Or beyond that, do you want to waste your time as a result of being tricked?

I don’t really worry about savvy 20- or 30-somethings. Most of them know what they’re getting into, and they’ve probably been on clickbait sites enough to recognize when to stop. I do worry about kids but even more, I worry about their parents. After all, how are parents going to tell their kids to cut back on the internet if the parents have themselves been ensnared?

Most parents do not go looking for clickbait. Usually, someone forwards an email, or an old family friend shares something on Facebook. Here is a list of red flags. If you see these words (or photos, I may include one or two), RESIST CLICKING ON THE LINK.

  • # Clickbait articles frequently use headlines like “13 Things that Everyone Does.” It has also become increasingly common to add something like, “and You Won’t Believe #11,” because your natural reaction is curiosity: “What is it that I won’t believe?”
  • ALL CAPS When people yell, it’s usually something important (and sometimes, it’s a ShamWow! commercial). Capitalizing all letters is kind of like yelling except on the internet, most cases are commercials trying to get you to click.
  • He or She or These or This or What Your natural reaction is, again, only curiosity (“Who is ‘He’?”). But you don’t need to know the answer.
  • I or Me or You Good headlines usually don’t address you personally, and definitely not in full sentences. Establishing a fake emotional connection is another easy way to trick people into clicking.
  • Incredible or Never or Shock or Unbelievable If it’s too much of *something* to be true, then reports are probably exaggerated.
  • This is a lotus pod. If you see a picture of skin with pods in it like this, IT'S NOT REAL. The real thing is just a plant.
    This is a lotus pod. If you see a picture of skin with pods in it like this, IT’S NOT REAL. The real thing is just a plant.

    If it looks kind of gross, just keep this in mind: This is what the lotus actually looks like.
    This is what the lotus actually looks like.

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