Is Click-bait Dangerous?


Click-bait, Danger or Annoyance

clickbait-trapIf you own a computer, phone or tablet you undoubtedly have already wasted your time clicking on a headline that had absolutely no bearing on the actual article to which it is linked.

Even though its use stems from and is mildly linked to the old-fashioned, attention-grabbing headlines used in newspapers, you had the ability to quickly see that the article below the headline was or was not worth your attention. The style then evolved into the tabloid magazines you typically see in your grocery aisle. They learned to hide the related article somewhere inside the tabloid and leave the tantalizing headline on the cover. In essence, click-bait is the habit of posting hard-to-believe headlines, or headlines with a key piece missing that supposedly arouses your curiosity enough to click on the article. Often, the misleading title leads to a disappointing finish or, in some cases, can be harmful.

Why We Click

why-did-i-click-on-thatIt is not unusual for individuals who make a living by scamming money from others, or for advertisers with no scruples, to use new technology to trick you. They are adept at adapting new technology using several human traits including vanity and curiosity to grab your attention.  In his book, “Why”, by Mario Livio, he said that curiosity is “like an itch we need to scratch”, and in some cases, “it is associated with an anticipation of reward” A sort of, look what I learned that you don’t know.

Whatever the case, click-bait uses a number of very effective cognitive tricks to get you to click. It appears that even if you already know a real answer won’t be revealed by clicking on “Five guaranteed ways to win the lottery”, you are still likely to click on it. Another tactic is to present you with some potential degree of pleasure if you click.

Click-bait with titles like, “The 10 cutest cats ever”, or “Try not to laugh when you see this”, has shown to actually raise the dopamine levels in readers. Dr. Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, said, “Dopamine is not about pleasure; it’s about the anticipation of pleasure.” Wikipedia reference https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Sapolsky.


Time-Wasting Click-bait

Not all click-bait is dangerous, but every one of them has one main goal and that is to manipulate the user. They have become so irritating that several Twitter accounts were created just to tell you answers to the most common click-bait so you don’t have to click on them.  @saved you a click has over a quarter million followers. Some people just can’t help themselves. They know it is click-bait, but click on it anyway. For the many people that feel compelled to click on click-bait while knowing that it is probably a scam, it may seem harmless.example-of-clickbait-girl-pointing

Image credit: Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

However, that is not always the case and the simple fact that click-bait creators can get you to click on click-bait with an alarming degree of effectiveness is frightening enough. In most cases, the cost is only your time. But as with any proven method to get people to perform a certain way, hackers are ever present. In a way, click-bait creators are setting you up for the fall that will eventually come.

Dangerous Click-bait

Once you get in the habit of clicking on titles like, “See if you can keep from laughing at the cutest puppy ever”, “The Truth behind Alfred Hitchcock’s movies”, and really lose nothing but a little time, you begin to think, “I’m fine with it; it’s my time to waste”.

That is when they have you, not the people trying to up the number of times their site gets a hit or the advertiser that just wants you to click on a series of never-ending photos to expose you to endless ads. No, the “they’ I am talking about here are the hackers.


There is nothing keeping someone from putting a dangerous link that hosts a virus or malware on a site. It is true that they can hijack a link (click-jacking) and have several users infected before it is discovered and shut down. But, most hackers are smarter than that.

Hackers are smart enough to not infect the original link. They would rather drag you down some narrative or series of photos until you eventually do click on an infected link.

free-credit-score

Click-bait can also lead you to free credit scores or mind puzzles that are really just ways to gain your trust and information. I would recommend you never enter any information on a site you arrived at through click-bait.

Click-bait on websites like Facebook have lead users to photos of enticing products only to be switched with inferior products after you send your hard-earned cash.

Summary

I would love to do nothing more in this summary than to have one sentence– “Stay Away From Click-bait”. But human nature is human nature and with so many professionals working hard to trick us, it is hard not to check out those cute puppies once in a while. But know, going in, that you increase your risk with every click. Hackers are becoming more sophisticated every day and work hard to increase your chance of clicking on what they want you to click. So if you can’t stay away, please make a habit of reporting bad clicks, clicks that are offensive, malicious, pure misdirection, lead to free IQ tests, or things too good to be true. Any web page that is not associated with a social media site, but includes bad clicks, should be down-rated in WOT if you use it on your browser.

About the Author

Jim Canfield

My interest in computers was a natural transition from all things electronics. I was hooked after building my first Heathkit computer around 1976, which evolved into a TSR80 and a long list of Windows computers. My first full blown program was a graphics program which started my career path in graphic design and IT work for 40 years. I now run a small computer repair and service company focused on helping veterans and retirees in our area with computer and software training classes.

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