“Lose 10 pounds in two days! Unmask the latest diet craze that will make you the envy of all your friends!”
“See what this mom did just to get the perfect picture! (Reader caution advised)”
“The number one reason why you should NEVER go on roller coasters with your hair down!”
How many of the above topics sound at least somewhat familiar to you? And how many times have you clicked on similar ones?
If your answer is, perhaps *a bit* embarrassedly, “Uh, more than once”, don’t worry, you’re in good company, and anyway your secret is safe with us. The implausible and sensational titles are intended to draw readers in and to make them think “Oh man, I just gotta read that one!” That’s why even intelligent, thoughtful people might click the link to read that article on why people should never go on roller coasters with your hair down (ouch). And of course you know intellectually that there is just no way to lose 10 pounds in two days (and if there is a way it probably isn’t all that intelligent or safe of an option) – But you’re just dying to find out anyway.
The above articles are examples of Click bait. Perhaps you have noticed such articles via friends on Facebook or as promoted content links on the bottom of other articles. Sure, they sound crazy and hyperbolic, but just like those tabloids headlines lining the checkout isles at your local Krogers or Publix, they wiggle their way into the curious recesses of your brain, working the same psychological magic as their print counterparts. You click because you just have to know – even though you really do know how preposterous it all really is, leaving your emotions to do the driving while logic takes a back seat.
Click bait – hook, line and sinker.
The real trouble is that click bait is often more than just a simple insult to our intelligence – it can lead to real trouble like malware and scams. Often times clicking on a seemingly-juicy article will lead you to nothing more than a useless pop-up for a fake video player or a fake survey, no article in sight. But if you take the, erm, bait, and download the player or fill in the survey, you’ll wind up with a PC full of malware and viruses. In fact, Facebook, well known for sensational and improbable content, started trying to put the brakes on click bait by creating an algorithm to map the time spent on outbound links to determine ones that are real and block the bad ones.
Social media ♥’s click bait
According to a recent report by the Better Business Bureau, news headlines often provide scammers with plenty of click bait-worthy inspiration. For example, last summer’s ice bucket challenge to create awareness for ALS spawned a slew of link-based scams. One piece of content making its rounds on Facebook promised to lead readers to a shocking video of an ice bucket challenge gone very wrong. In fact, all it led to was a website with a pop-up for a fake video player, asking to be updated. Viewers who chose to update wound up with a Trojan virus on their computers.
This is just one example – there are countless others, like the Facebook post about a guy who pops a black head. From the provocative title you’re left to wonder if something gross crawls out – but all you get when you click on the link is sent to a website that asks you to fill out a survey and then steals your identity.
Facebook isn’t alone in harboring click bait – you can find it on Twitter and in other places too, even on reputable websites like Forbes.com, at the end of articles where the Promoted Content articles are – sure, sometimes they are legit, but other times they clearly aren’t. The thing that makes social media a hotbed for click bait is that people tend to be trusting and open when it comes to relationships and sharing on these platforms. When you tell everyone what your two-year-old just ate for dinner and about how your dog rolled over and played dead, you’re in an open and sharing “groove.” In such a state, people become more susceptible and willing to click than they might be with something like a suspicious email – when it comes to email, we all (hopefully) know to be more cautious and judicious. But we feel good and open on social media, and this fuzzy and warm feeling can lead to big-time security issues.
So does this mean you can never click those juicy-sounding articles again?
Well, it certainly means that if you have a propensity to click, click, click away, you need to use more caution than you had in the past. And it also means that you should use more caution in general on social media – approach sharing and opening posts from friends as cautiously as you would your emails. Social media can be a wonderful tool but it can be really dangerous as well and it’s beyond important to keep that in perspective.
Make sure your antivirus protection is up and running to stay safe from anything you click accidentally and hover over links to see if they lead to a reputable-sounding source or not. If it doesn’t sound legit, you can be sure it’s not worth the risk. (This will only help if they aren’t shortened links like we discussed a few weeks ago here on the blog – and if they are shortened, find out how to steer clear of them)
Lastly, resist the urge to know. Keep your wits about you, because you know what they say – curiosity killed the cat. Well, apparently, it’s also been known to kill some computers and steal some identities too.