EDITORIAL: The Curse Of Clickbait

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Well, I think it’s high time that this editorial be written  given the current turn of events with films and journalism in general. I want to make it abundantly clear that before I start on this post that this post is an EDITORIAL, meaning it is not necessarily fact but rather an opinion. It is my own opinion and reflects how I feel. It is not a representation of the ideas of every member of the Up Your Geek Team.  

So did you guys hear about that new big blockbuster film that Disney has been promoting lately? Yeah, that one film about that one guy who has powers? Yeah! That film. Well, you guys are going to be disappointed when you hear the latest “insider” news that I have on that movie. I know this guy who knew this guy who knew this guy’s cousin who knew this girl’s husband that used to work on the movie before he got fired and he told me that the film is a mess. Yeah, I’m pretty bummed about it too. Hopefully, the article I am about to publish about it on my “We Love Movies” website gets enough clicks because I need the views. Yeah, I may not have some more concrete evidence but it’s okay.

What you just read is basically a near perfect example of the Internet and it’s reactions to an article stating something negative about something or someone and how the “blogger” or “journalist” mentions clicks on their website. In the journalistic/blogging industry, this is a common practice that people like to use to gain a reputation and clicks on their website that can raise where they stand on search engines and in some cases, gain money from each click that they get from the heavy traffic. Now the ethics of this practice are without a doubt questionable as the writers may sacrifice integrity and report what people want to hear instead of the actual truth or facts as they stand but others can refute that this can potentially be a living for people and you do what must to get by. Where is that line drawn? Is clickbait ever acceptable? I would like to contend by saying that under any circumstances, it should not be accepted given what it leads to. People should reject it on both ends if you are a journalist or a reader because misinformation helps nobody. It can cause people to make poor decisions, damage the reputation of others, and makes things much more difficult for people than they already may be.

Now how exactly does clickbait work? What exactly is the psychology behind it? Well clickbait works by using the most basic notions of human psychology. The psychology being that it is within human nature to be biased and take certain stances on things that we agree with that benefit or suit our never-ending “confirmation bias” whether they are true or not. For instance, you can look at things based on rumors that surfaced from various films that have come out over the years. I would like to draw up films like 2015’s Ant-Man and the current rumors about Wonder Woman and Justice League as examples of my point. As some of you may recollect, there were numerous articles that surfaced about the upcoming installment to the MCU back in 2014. A lot of these articles used words like “mess” and “disaster” within their titles to paint an image of distress which in turn provokes a feeling of anxiety in the readers before they even click the article. The readers can’t help but think to themselves, “Oh no! What’s going on? Why is this happening?”” and that’s when they get curious. They get so curious to the point that they just have to know and that is when they click the article. Boom! The site is now getting traffic in the thousands and the owners of the site whoever they are can be possibly making a nice wad of cash off of the anxiety of the readers even if whatever they’re reporting isn’t true given that the film may actually turn out pretty well which in the case of Ant-Man, those rumors were pretty false. We’re now seeing it again and at an alarming rate with the DC Extended Universe where nearly every article says something along the lines of “disaster” or “mess.” We’re seeing the same old thing about alleged “insiders” saying they know something about the film even when professional and high profile journalists tend to debunk these sources and more often tend to be right.

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Forbes’ Mark Hughes debunking a report.

Have you taken something away from anything I have said yet? Maybe something that goes along the lines of the language used within the headlines, perhaps? Great! You’re definitely great at figuring this out. I commend you, readers, for understanding where I am going with this at the moment as this is the language of the journalistic industry. Language which is everything. It is how we communicate our own ideas, someone else’s, and of course the facts behind a big headline and with language there is a certain way it has to be used if you want to take your scoop or editorial to the mainstream for public consumption. How you word something will determine if people will even take the time to click your article after they see it when they scroll down on their Facebook or Twitter feed. As an amateur journalist myself I know for myself that there are people who like to use these little things called “buzz words” and more often than not, negative buzz words work the best because it incites curiosity and a much larger discussion if the negativity propels a rumor to circulate on the internet. It’s pretty similar to what happens in your average K-12 school in America where people talk bad about each other. There are even vast amounts of psychological reports like this one that can prove humans tend to pay more attention to negative news more than positive news so if you use words like “mess” or “disaster” or even “struggle” to paint the context that a film is not at all coming together behind the scenes during the post-production phase. Even the more high profile journalists like Forbes’ Mark Hughes could tell you that people like to do this even if it isn’t a really brilliant idea or the right thing to do.

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“I know a lot of interesting things about this movie that not even the director knows!”

Now granted there are some instances where rumors do turn up true like the rumors about last year’s Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad having problems behind the scenes which admittedly did show in both films. However, they were at the same time nowhere near as bad as a good portion of the press had made them out to be. I am not deflecting from what was wrong with these films because they most definitely had problems and they did deserve whatever criticism that they had each respectively received but I won’t go into too much detail about that because I’d just go off-topic and that is not the point of this article whatsoever. The problems that happened behind the scenes with the previously mentioned films while they were bad were not as awful as some people liked to exaggerate. It was largely some faulty writing here and there, bad editing, rushed writing, and a few other things. Those things were hardly as big as people made it out to be. People made it out to be as if they tried to film a whole new movie instead of the one that they had edited or in the case of another DC film like that of 2011’s Green Lantern which had no director when it started filming. Yeah, there’s a little fun fact for you. Martin Campbell didn’t sign on as director until around midway through filming so the WB executives were pretty much running the show before he came on board. That would be a much better example of an actual occurrence that’d warrant the terms “mess” or “disaster” than the simple editing, writing, or re-shooting problems (which reshoots happen for practically every film ever made) that we constantly hear about surrounding the DCEU films. They dramatized the problems which to me is dishonest and isn’t accurately reporting the facts as they are but rather as the writer in question perceives them. I want to make it very clear that I am not necessarily saying that you should dismiss rumors at all but rather that you should take them with a grain of salt and let the film speak for itself and comment on whether the articles about it were true or false. Do not take these articles as fact and propagate them until there’s something more substantial that surfaces to prove an article’s integrity.

That is of course one reason why clickbait occurs and it’s generally seen as the most common reason why it happens. Another reason can also be bias which there is nothing wrong with at all. It is with a doubt okay to be biased since it is human nature to have preferences so long as you are aware of your personal biases and do not let it influence your job as a writer, blogger, or editor of a news site. For instance, I will openly admit that I love science fiction films. More specifically Star Wars and Star Trek but at the same time I prefer Star Wars which is why I generally recuse myself from writing any article about Star Trek because I in all honesty do not think I could appropriately report the facts about the franchise or it’s films and TV shows without inserting my own personal biases into the article. Intentional or not. Having said that what makes you think that other journalists who are either high profile professionals or amateurs like me don’t do it too? Oh, trust me they do. You can close your eyes and spin around three times but nothing will change that fact because again, bias is human instinct. You can’t twist or turn that narrative to say otherwise. Particularly when you have literal evidence of that proves it which I am about to get to but before I do I just want to say that I am not necessarily insulting or defaming the person in question or the work that they do as a journalist but rather highlighting the concept of bias in journalism which I have already done with myself. The person in question is none other than Brandon Davis, the editor-in-chief of popular social media news site Comicbook.com. Now why exactly is Brandon my example? Well, he is an example because of something very recently that happened with the website/organization that he works for.

I do not know how many of you exactly read his website but very recently they had a poll about what was the best comic book movie of 2016. The choices were as follows: Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice, X-Men Apocalypse, Captain America Civil War, Doctor Strange, and Deadpool. Fans of all of these movies voiced their opinions about what they felt was the better film of 2016 by voting and they generally voted in favor of BvS which came in at 50% while Civil War came in at 17%. Let’s make it clear that I am not really going to be contending those results and stating which film is better because the people who voted did that already and that is not the issue here. The issue here is what ensued later on which is when the polls had closed and the website announced the winner. The winner was the last film that you’d expect to win based on how things were going with the polls as I watched them. The winner was announced to be Captain America Civil War even though according to the presented numbers on the poll openly stated that Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice  had a much higher percentage of voters than the other film. I would think that any rational minded person regardless of their opinions on either film would heavily argue the math behind this announcement. This also isn’t exactly fair to any of the people who took the time out of their day and voted in the poll for any of the films listed. It is as if the readers or their individual opinions didn’t matter unless they voted for a certain film that the owners of the poll liked. Take this point into your own consideration on how you’d feel if a site did this with your vote, fan poll or not.

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The final poll

Now here is where things get rather interesting as a lot of people who objected to this post began to do some deep digging on what the heck was going on. People tried to look for reasons as to how Civil War one despite having only 17% in comparison to the 50% that BvS got. They began to turn their eyes to Brandon Davis, who is the editor-in-chief of the site. More specifically to Brandon’s Twitter account where he made a very interesting and questionable statement which can potentially be open to interpretation if you ask me. Brandon made the following statement on his Twitter:

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Brandon Davis’s Twitter Post

Hmm. You would rather sit through 16 MCU films before Avengers: Infinity War than 3 DCEU films ahead of Justice League. You said that. Obviously I am someone who can respect opinions and I respect you as a journalist for your individual views, Brandon. I genuinely can respect that. If you prefer the MCU over the DCEU then that is fine. Nobody is suing you for it. It’s not a crime to have a preference as I said earlier. However, at the same time I do believe that bias when it comes to publishing articles about a film or polls about movies should be interpreted with a grain of salt or with the facts laid bare and reported as they are. Who is to say that your personal preference that you have showcased in this Tweet has not impaired your judgement or the judgement of your fellow employees at Comicbook.com in reporting the news for any film whether it be a DCEU, Fox Marvel, or MCU film? We honestly do not know what to think of that but as I said before, I do believe that you’re entitled to your opinion as a person but as a journalist, I don’t think it’s good to let that personal opinion influence what you report or how it is reported. It should be your duty to give your readers the facts instead of rumors instead of propagating what could potentially be seen as libel by some people. Libel which could potentially harm a person’s status or a business which does not look good for anyone and everyone in the journalistic/blogging industry. It causes people to wonder if journalistic integrity is dead or not.

Having said that little piece right there I want to once again ask all of you readers a legitimate question. Do you still personally believe that there is not a bias among journalists in low and high profile news sites with high and low profile journalists like there definitely is a bias with average people? In all honesty, I would sincerely hope that with me laying down this kind of evidence on the table that people take my statements about bias seriously and think about it. I would like to hope that readers regardless of your opinion on a movie can think about what’s being said and possibly take things with a huge grain of salt until the films come out and can prove the validity of the rumors, consider the idea that bloggers/journalists are human just like you are and have bias, and more importantly consider where you get the news/rumors from. It does not matter if the news came from a big high profile site like Comicbook.com or a semi-low profile site like this one.

Well, there you have it. There’s my little rant about clickbait and the curse it brings, the two leading causes as to why it happens, and most importantly how you should address it and could even combat it by just not giving it any attention at all by not clicking it or taking things with a grain of salt instead of propagating it as holy gospel or fact.

Happy clicking or not clicking!

2 thoughts on “EDITORIAL: The Curse Of Clickbait

  1. I love Marvel and the MCU but even I won’t deny there’s a slight bias that people take with the MCU. There’s plenty to suggest it regardless of your thoughts about dc films. Great post man

    Like

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