Tech & The Web

I’ve Declared War on Facebook Clickbait


I’m seeing more and more Facebook clickbait in my newsfeed these days. So I finally decided to start taking action to stop it.

Before I get too heavy into my rant about all the Facebook clickbait these days, I think we should discuss an important point.

Many people don’t know what “clickbait” really means.

I gave an example years ago that you’ve surely seen in your newsfeed. The advertiser grabs a photo of a popular celebrity. It then adds a headline like, “30 Celebrities You Didn’t Know had Died.”

You’ll find examples with plenty of celebrities. The one I saw most recently chose a photo of Michael J. Fox, the star of Family Ties and the Back to the Future franchise, among others.

Since I work in news, I felt confident that if Fox had died, I’d have seen something on that. I might know it before most of Fox’s fans, in fact.

The reason you can legitimately call this clickbait is that it promises something that obviously isn’t true. You click to find out how the celebrity in question died. You typically have to scroll through so many ads or such a long slideshow — loaded with ads — that your browser begins to buckle under the strain.

And when you get to the end, you feel cheated because the promise made that prompted you to click ends up being unfulfilled.

That’s clickbait.

Many people don’t know clickbait when they see it.

People accuse news outlets of clickbait all the time. Almost all of the time, what readers think is clickbait isn’t.

Suppose a news outlet posts a story about one gas station offering $1-per-gallon gasoline. You click the story and find that the gas station is 1,000 miles away and that it’s a one-day sale.

Is that clickbait? It might be if the post claimed it was a local gas station. Otherwise, though, if what’s in the post is accurate, that’s not clickbait. That’s simply clever promotion.

Social media platforms want their readers to stay on their platform. We all know that. But people who own websites — whether amateur bloggers or professional businesses — need you to click through to their actual websites.

Honest posts that leave out just enough information to make you click is what they have to do.

Think of your favorite grocery store. You receive ads online or in the paper advertising sales. As soon as you arrive, you see those big posters on the windows promoting a sale. Some of us might only go for certain sale items.

If we go and they have the item we want at the price they advertised, we wouldn’t complain.

If we go and they don’t, we’d accuse them of dishonesty, false advertising, and probably a few other things.

There’s nothing wrong with promotion. There’s nothing wrong with using sale prices to lure people inside your store.

That’s just simple business.

It’s important to keep the difference in mind.

I’ve had more than enough of Facebook clickbait.

The most recent one — and I’ve seen this one take many forms — offers some clever life hack or explains some product’s design whose function you never realized. You click through to the website because you’re interested in that clever photo.

You click and click and click through a slideshow. Or you scroll a distance that feels longer than the length of a CVS receipt.

The item in the photo doesn’t appear at all. The article doesn’t even mention it.

If your browser doesn’t hang from all of the ad loading, you get all the way to the end of it and realize they deceive you.

It happens too often.

So now I have a new strategy. The first thing I do when I see a post like that is check the comments. More and more people equally frustrated often post comments complaining that the article doesn’t mention what’s in the post. Others will state how many pages — almost always, it’s more than 15 — you have to click through to get to the information they teased. (Sometimes, they’ll even post that very information to save everyone else from having to do so.)

If I see that, I hover over the three dots to the upper right of that post. I select “Report Ad.” When Facebook gives me the option, I click “Misleading or scam.”

Recently, a commenter told me she reports ads she doesn’t like as being sexually inappropriate. If there’s nothing sexual, I wouldn’t do that; Facebook might penalize you for abusing its reporting system. (They’re Facebook; they can do that.)

On the other hand, a post that advertises something the advertiser blatantly doesn’t deliver is certainly misleading.

But I go a step further. Once I report it, I then click “Hide all posts from this advertiser.” Essentially, I tell Facebook to block them.

Fool me once, shame on you. You won’t get the chance to fool me twice.

Do you ever block advertisers you’ve seen posting Facebook clickbait or do you consider it just a part of social media these days?

1 Comment

  1. My husband and I both despise clickbait, and it’s bad enough to have it on FaceBook, but it is on YouTube as well, which just cinches how much we’ll go through to avoid it as much as possible.

    Annoying does not come close to describing it.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.