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04.01.2015
An interesting thing about these complaints, besides the fact that they all read a little like Business Insider articles, is that they all address, even focus on, the titles of the clickbait articles. The most essential grammatical tic that Upworthy employs is a bit more complex than simple word choice or sentence structure: the titles introduce a fairly typical story, idea, or theme in the first sentence, then use a much shorter sentence to complicate or undermine it. The key element in these titles is the relationship between the first sentence and the second.
A quick search of the Upworthy site will reveal hundreds of great examples of the phrase “faith in humanity.” Anecdotally, I don’t remember this phrase being used much before the Rise Of Clickbait in the last five years. The point of the exercise is to examine some of the contradictions or confusion we use in everyday language.
I can only assume that the phrase “You Won’t Believe What Happens Next” is meant to be ironic and conversational. It’s also worth noting that this is the second Upworthy #trend (#upworthytrend?) that focuses on (dis)belief. The earliest known use of the term was in a blog post by corporate systems advisor Jay Geiger on December 1st, 2006. On October 30th, 2012, Urban Dictionary[6] user John Prior submitted an entry for “click bait,” defining it as web content designed to encourage clicks for advertising revenue.
In August 2014, “clickbait” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary.[11] On October 3rd, the Epic News YouTube channel uploaded a video titled “This Video Will Change Your Life,” which cited several examples of clickbait in online media and mocked sites like UpWorthy for using cheap tricks to generate pageviews (shown below). Several major online news sites and aggregation sites have been criticized for employing clickbait tactics, including Upworthy, The Huffington Post, Gawker and BuzzFeed, among many others. Upworthy Headlines are parody titles that mock those used for content highlighted on the viral media site Upworthy,[1] which are often criticized for using the clickbait techniques to grab the viewer’s attention and increase pageviews.
My facebook wall gets bombarded by this “You won`t believe what is going to happen next!” video – bullshit. I don't really know what the Upworthy thing is or how I came to 'like' it on Facebook but holy crap is there some awesome stuff on there. Well, you're in luck because, not to toot our own e-horn, but we've got a pretty meaningful daily email. And I suppose that is the defining characteristic of clickbait as a genre: titles that manipulate or coerce readers into visiting the site.


The first is relatively traditional, while the second sentence is short, annoyingly informal, and conspiratorial. But is this something connected specifically to Upworthy, or is it just evocative of clickbait in general? I pick a seemingly innocuous phrase that is (over-)used in mass media, then I ask the class to explain what it means.
That is, the next event or revelation is so surprising as almost to inspire disbelief, but is actually real and to be believed. No Fear Shakespeare—the Sparknotes guide that translates Shakespeare into “the kind of English people actually speak today”—graciously glosses this as “I am not what I appear to be,” but he doesn't really say that does he? It is typically used as a pejorative for viral media and stories that spread through social networking sites despite their perceived lack of depth, quality, authenticity or accuracy. In January 2006, Google employee Matt Cutts[3] published a blog post outlining various linkbait techniques. On October 15th, 2013, CollegeHumor[1] published a compilation of book covers photoshopped with clickbait titles (shown below). We provide you with the latest breaking news and videos straight from the automotive industry.
They are infinitely imitable: a clever website even parodies the style of clickbait title creation. And I think that’s the point; the second sentence piques you to resolve the irritation it causes. We might call these couplets epodal because of the relative line lengths, but I think the effect is more similar to catalexis in that the second line’s brevity emphasizes something unfinished or incomplete. No matter what they say, I either pretend not to understand, or ask “no, but what does it mean?” The students think it’s frustrating, then funny, then, frustrating again. I assume that humanity means something close to “the goodness of human nature,” and not “the essential or unifying nature of personhood,” but I’m really not sure.
But the repetition of this clause only fills me with some vague Lovecraftian dread for the future.
Is there something about the hyperlink that makes us want to believe, or disbelieve, what is on the other side?


Everyone hates the formulaic success that BuzzFeed has generated with endless listicles about animals, the 90s, and animals in the 90s. The second sentence is intentionally vague: click here to finish the thought, answer the question, solve the riddle! At the very least the repeated recycling of this phrase should serve as a reminder of the Sisyphean task of restoring faith in humanity, whatever it may mean. After all, the sentence has two elements: “you won’t believe” (disbelief, incredulity) and “what happens next” (anticipation, the future). Upworthy inspires a slightly more complex disdain: it claims to engage in advocacy by “raising awareness” through viral videos about “issues” instead of cats and the quizzes. These are the things I think about when high school classmates and family friends post or tweet Upworthy links. On December 8th, Redditor StopSquashandRoll submitted a screenshot titled “This is probably some of the best clickbait I’ve seen,” featuring an article titled “Celebs You Didn’t Know Are Black” (shown below, right). Most of the more political friends I know HATE this “clicktivism,” since it gives “readers” a sense of political involvement because they watched a video about a kid who stood up to bullies. Whatever loathing I feel for listicles and viral videos and their effects on my time and attention span, I actually appreciate, even enjoy, the way they imbue their titles with such mystery and suspense. But as someone who rarely clicks on Upworthy links, I have come to appreciate the beauty of these teases.
These phrases are used and reused separately too, and the results can be pretty disturbing if you stop to think about them. And traditional media don’t seem too happy with Upworthy either; responses range from indignation to smirking analysis to truly depressing defeatism.
Read the above titles again, but without registering the hyperlink: now they read like Buddhist koans.



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