In printed news publishing, a catchy headline "above the fold," or a fancy cover page helps to target the readership. In online news publishing every individual news item has to be advertised on its own, leading some to adopt dodgy practices to maximize click-through: as of around 2012, these practices have been collectively dubbed "clickbait." Clickbait violates journalistic codes of ethics, and it has been on the rise for the past years.

Clickbait has been popularized in recent years by startups which sought ways to mass-produce web content with an increased likelihood of spreading virally through social networks. When web content goes viral, the web page hosting it may attract millions of unique page impressions in a short time. The provider of a piece of viral content may earn significant amounts of money from such an event by showing advertisements around it, albeit the profits vary greatly with costs per 1000 views, costs per ad click, ad provider fees, etc.

People started wondering about what makes online content viral and, more importantly, whether viral content can be predicted or even mass-produced. The answer is clickbait. After having analyzed more than 100 blog posts about clickbait that have been published by concerned web users within the past three years, four points of criticism are frequently mentioned: Clickbait exploits cognitive biases, it violates journalistic codes of ethics, it does not deliver on the promises made, it clogs up social media channels.

Our project (Clickbait Language Investigation in Communication is Key to Build Automatic Identification Technology) carries out basic and applied research and development into technology for clickbait analytics. It received funding from the Google Digital News Initiative.


Students: Sebastian Köpsel

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