Upworthy and Terrible Headlines
Despite all its annoyances, I’m still a heavy Facebook user. Despite its problems, it’s still the best place to interact with my friends and share funny links on the Internet. For the most part, my friends share things I find interesting. But there’s one website that’s really come to irk me lately, the viral video site Upworthy.
Upworthy is just one of many content-aggregating “viral sites” on the Internet. Basically, this site gathers up “inspirational” videos from around the web and repackages them with terrible headlines. These “clickbait” headlines often don’t say anything about the video. Instead, they try to grab your attention, often asking and begging for you to watch the video. Here are some of the more egregious examples. (Because of my disdain for Upworthy’s shady headlines, I’m posting the original YouTube links they plagiarized, sorry, “curated”.)
- “Watch The First 54 Seconds. That’s All I Ask. You’ll Be Hooked After That, I Swear”: Originally titled “The Landfill Harmonic Orchestra”, this is an excerpt from a documentary about kids in Cateura, Paraguay creating musical instruments out of garbage.
- “His First 4 Sentences Are Interesting. The 5th Blew My Mind. And Made Me A Little Sick”: Originally called “Why Are American Health Care Costs So High?”, this YouTube clip features author John Green talking about the Byzantine health care system we have here in America.
- “The Most Obvious Thing About Science That I Shouldn’t Ever Have To Ever Explain Ever”: This is just the music video for the song “Science Is Real” by They Might Be Giants.
Clickbait headlines like these are becoming all the more common on the Internet. And it makes sense why. In an old fashioned “paper” newspaper, the headlines have to be short to save on space, and since you already bought the paper, they don’t have to be tricky or misleading either. On the Internet, however, headlines need to grab your attention, leading to such monstrosities as the Upworthy headlines listed above.
When it comes to these terrible headlines, Upworthy one of the worst offenders out there. Then there are viral sites like BuzzFeed, whose clickbait headlines are hyperbolic but informative (such as “The 30 Most Important Cats of 2013”, which is a series of cat pictures.) But with Upworthy, you have to spend five minutes watching the video before you can decide whether or not it’s something you’d even be interested in watching. After a few more videos, you realize that most of the content on the site is mere partisan hackery made to tug at your heartstrings. If you like that kind of thing, you’re free to watch it. But with millions of videos on the Internet, I’d like to know what I’m getting into before I click the link. Ultimately, it’s this lack of transparency that makes Upworthy headlines so reprehensible.
Well put. I heard someone at Upworthy defend the site by saying that “McDonalds uses these techniques to get people to eat their burgers, so why can’t we use them for good?” I have to give Upworthy credit for being marginally better than McDonalds, but tricking people into clicking on high-minded content is still tricking people.