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Cambridge University Science Magazine
You've definitely heard of ‘clickbait’, the digital colloquialism, has managed to permeate both into academic media and our daily lexicon. Clickbait essentially refers to short messages enticing readers to click online links, exhibiting a dubious relevance to their content. Often the hyperlinks themselves serve as the clickbait, citing outlandish claims about getting rich quick, the latest make-up hack, or juicy celebrity gossip. So, why are we all so eager to take the bait?

Using machine learning, a group of researchers at Lewis University argued that clickbait fulfills specific criteria, exploiting particular semantic features to draw us in. They found that clickbait headlines disproportionately used determiners (e.g. ‘your’); superlatives (e.g. ‘the tallest’ ) and punctuation such as exclamation marks. The researchers sought to use these overrepresentations to algorithmically identify clickbait and combat its omnipresence in online media.

In tandem, broader features of clickbait include ascribing a lack of knowledge to the reader; vagueness and the implication that clicking the link will result in an emotional reaction. The psychological underpinnings were theorized way back in 1994 - long before TikTok, Snapchat and Buzzfeed. The psychologist Lowenstein put forward the ‘information gap theory of curiosity’ which proposes that curiosity arises when attention becomes fixated on a perceived gap in knowledge, resulting in a ‘cognitively induced deprivation’ as we scramble desperately to alleviate feelings of not being ‘in the know’ . This theory can be summarized as ‘knowledge FOMO’, which clickbait headlines are able to exploit with ease.

Article by Oliver Macauley.

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This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Attribution: Jonn Leffmann

Image has been slightly cropped.