Under pressure for spreading fake news, Facebook tweaked its algorithm (yet again) to prioritize “authentic” content. If you like to share stories on Facebook that are engineered more to generate outrage rather than convey facts, your online followers are supposedly less likely to see the clickbait headlines in what Facebook calls its news feed. Don’t worry, this post has a solution for you knicker-knotters.
First a little background.
Clickbait headlines are ones that promise a story that’s much more emotionally satisfying in some way than what’s actually delivered. I have written headlines for a living and can testify that mainstream news organizations want their headlines to be compelling too, but without over-promising. A news organization that values a reputation for accuracy and wants lifetime subscribers is not going to risk letting its readers down each time they click. Even the more tabloid-oriented news organizations use sensationalism sparingly, and have other tools to make headlines compelling: celebrity name-dropping, clever wording, and paying real journalists to do the reporting and editing that allows them to honestly boast the story is “exclusive” or “breaking.”
A sensational headline based on sensational facts is not clickbait or fake news. Those terms lose meaning unless properly reserved to describe headlines and stories that are exaggerated beyond reality or deliberately misleading. Some of the cliches that infest headlines on social media (You won’t believe…the 17 best…will change your life) may be attached to clickbait, or they may link to truly useful or entertaining content. If I am looking for good ramen in Santa Monica, it really doesn’t matter to me if the headline uses some tired change-your-life trope as long as it links to a well-researched, up-to-date list of restaurants.
This post is about shameless fake news sites and their close relatives, the left- or right-leaning websites that propagandize followers with headlines that are hysterical—in the screeching, humorless, paranoid sense of that word.
I have become friends with several people whose morning ritual is to share links to these shameless sites. So here’s some advice to get around the algorithm blockade. Don’t bother to link. Write your own headlines, using the guide below, inspired by the work of satirists over the decades, from Spy magazine to the website that generates fake Upworthy headlines. All you have to do is randomly match one from column A with one from column B and so on.
I could go on but you get the idea. Now you may be wondering: What good does this do if you are not linking your headline to an actual website or blog post? The answer is that the emotional rush of outrage is the same whether or not your followers click through, if they were stupid enough to do so anyway.