Many of you know the term “Clickbait” (aka “click bait” or “click-bait”). But for those that don’t, clickbait are web articles that are created to entice “clicking” on them. Typically, the stories are misleading, biased, low-quality or completely bogus. The purpose of these articles is not to inform… at least not to inform with the truth. Rather, they are to pull people in to generate advertising dollars. Websites need thousands of clicks a month to attract advertisers. One time I wrote an article challenging a false prophecy from a traveling speaker visiting the Philippines that a flesh-eating bacteria plague would start in Pangasinan and then grow into a worldwide epidemic. A few weeks later a local news network put on a (later found false) report that supported the prophecy. Within 4 hours of that report, I had over 3,000 hits on my website. Normally, it takes me close to 4 months to get that many hits. Stories, even when false, that draw on the fears of Christians can generate an awful lot of “clicks” on the web. I am glad, however, that my article challenged the story, and ultimately appears to have been correct.
One finds a lot of clickbait on Facebook. At lot of my friends share this stuff. Now, in some cases, it is not their fault. Some clickbait is set up so that when one tries to close the article by clicking on the “X” it is actually interpreting the action as a permission to share on your FB page. That being said, so many intentionally put completely bogus stories on FB. Why do that do it? I am not sure, but here are some thoughts related to this issue at least.
- Far too many Christians don’t want to take the time to do real research. If there is a report that a crater has formed in a part of the world as a part of divine judgment, it may be difficult to prove it was divine judgment, but it is pretty easy to research whether such a crater actually exists. But far too many don’t take the time.
- There is still a tendency to take pictures as truth, and written stories on the Web as non-fiction. We live in an age where we should always doubt image evidence. We should also question context. Further, saying that one “read it on the Internet” is like saying one “heard it on the telephone.” The Internet is no more likely to be correct than any other communication device.
- Many Christians (like most people really) like to shelter themselves with people they agree with and stories that support their beliefs. Some love to repeat any story that shows some religious, or racial, or national or social group in a bad light, regardless of the truthfulness, or even plausibility of the story. Others seem to have a fascination of divine judgment or guessing the end of the world, and repeat related stories with little to no thought to source, reliability, or logic (or repercussions to one’s witness when proven false).
- Many fall into the situation of the bored cat that was killed by his own curiosity. Stories often titillate, or start with “I was shocked when I discovered…” to say nothing of articles that essentially say that you must read it, or must share it, if you love Jesus or care about others. Of course, in many cases the real reason you must read or share it is to help the site owner’s hit count for revenue purposes.
But is this all harmless? I don’t think so.
- Some people believe these stories. Many of the stories draw on the baser instincts of Christians… trying to fire up their anger or moral outrage– perpetuate and expand an “US” versus “THEM” attitude. This is hardly a beneficial thing for Christians or the church.
- I think it perpetuates a felt belief among many secularists that “Christians are so stupid that they will believe most anything.” Admittedly, secularists can be pretty gullible as well, but that hardly negates the bad reputation that it generates. I remember a friend of mine putting a non-sense article on his social media page where he added the comment… “This may not be true… but it should be warning to us.” If it claims to be true, verify it. If it proves untrue, don’t share it.
- Helping false reports “go viral” supports a cynical industry that should be opposed (at least with disinterest) rather than sponsored.
- In some cases, of course, this clickbait got dumped on people’s FB page without them knowing. But one really needs to know what is on one’s page. One’s reputation, one’s persona is revealed in what one puts on one’s FB, one’s Twitter, one’s Linkedin and more, People make judgments about others in what they have on their page.
I have to admit that I am cautious about working with people who are not cautious, or are excessively gullible, in what they have on their social media pages. I am sure others judge me in what I put on as well.
Titus 2:10 suggests that we are to adorn the gospel with our words and actions. I Peter 3:15 says that we are to share what believe and hope in, with gentleness and respect. Spreading obvious foolishness certainly does not do this.