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Clickbait is all about getting as much traffic to posts or videos as possible and attracting attention of large audiences online to ultimately meet the end goal of making money and gaining popularity. This social media phenomenon has become a lot more prevalent and widely used throughout the internet across almost all media platforms. The platform that has the most creators that utilize clickbait to generate more views and attention is YouTube, which is what we decided to primarily focus our study on. The main aspects of clickbait are the numbers behind all the posts such as the amount of views or reads and the actual people that are clicking on these clickbait posts. Some of the most famous YouTube creators actually have made clickbait a part of their brand and have their audiences knowingly click on their videos with the intention of being misled by the title, which is one of the aspects we would like to study further. This topic has a very wide range of content that can be studied that require both quantitative and qualitative methods to thoroughly understand it.
The biggest motivation YouTube creators have for using clickbait in their video titles and thumbnails is numbers, more specifically the amount of money and views. As stated before, famous creators use clickbait on a daily basis and ones like David Dobrik and Liza Koshy are known to use it as a means of generating more views to their videos which eventually makes them more money. Aside from numbers of views clickbait videos get, we feel it is important to study is the amount of time viewers spend online watching YouTube content and how that directly correlates to how many clickbait videos they watch in that time. Also, we want to find the percentage of the population of YouTube viewers that click on clickbait videos and are fully aware that what they are watching is not what is portrayed in the title and thumbnail. We feel that the best way to quantify this in our study is through the use of surveys on a sizable amount of undergraduate students on campus that use social media in their daily lives and are very familiar with it. College students, especially in today’s society are a perfect demographic to conduct this study on mainly because of how big of a role social media and online media content has in young people’s daily lives. Most undergraduate students are always on their laptops or smartphones consuming online content, so we think it will be very easy to find participants that fit the requirements we need.
The element of clickbait that is the most important and the reason it is so popular in today’s society is the actual consumers that keep clicking on the videos and giving the views and attention to the creators. Studying the consumers is just as important as the content itself because finding out the reasons why people are clicking on clickbait posts could connect to why the creators continue to use it as a means of getting more views. We want to study the YouTube creators we mentioned before, David Dobrik and Liza Koshy in a qualitative way because some of the videos they post that get the most views are the ones that appeal to their audience’s emotions such as videos like Dobrik’s “SHE TOLD ME SHE WAS PREGNANT!! (SURPRISE) and Koshy’s “FACING MY ANXIETY” (Dobrik 2019; Koshy 2017). A sense of curiosity and allure in the audiences come from these titles and that is what we feel is important to study in regards to clickbait. To further study this, we want to conduct individual interviews with people that we choose who previously participated in the survey to draw a conclusion about the deeper reasons why people choose to click on these misleading videos.
The quantitative and qualitative methods to our study very much rely on each other not only because of the content we are studying, but also because of the methodology we chose. The survey we are conducting will give us some preliminary quantifiable data that we plan to use in the following qualitative part of our study where we find out the reasons the respondents chose the answers they did in the survey. Mixed methods will help us further understand clickbait in multiple ways which will lead to a clear conclusion to our research questions about the topic.
Summary of Literature
The use of clickbait to gain viewership in both user-created content and tabloid news has become a common occurrence in the media world. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have become accustomed to the use of enticing headlines to quickly grasp the attention of viewers. This has been practiced primarily before social media became the world’s main way of consuming information. William Randolph Hearst created the practice of Yellow Journalism in the 1890s that sensationalized stories using attention-grabbing headlines and pictures to increase circulation of newspapers. Since then, the same practices have been utilized in the digital age which has rapidly increased competition to rely on provocative and controversial thought pieces (Schuster 2012). Research done on the uses and gratifications obtained from news media and social media has determined that news media is still the primary way for many people to obtain information while social media is for entertainment. Age has become the most important factor that has separated the two uses of news media and social media as younger people are beginning to become primarily dependent on social media for both news and entertainment (Masouras et al. 2015). The influence of social media in the current digital age may become the primary way in which people obtain news and entertainment information, especially for young people.
Today, news and social media platforms use quantitative data, or data that can be counted, measured, or observed, to understand the qualities of an article that make consumers click on them the most (Berger, 2016, p.27). Quantitative data may include words, pictures, or phrases that are commonly clicked on (De Witte 2018). This helps media platform find out what articles gain the most online advertising revenue, which articles are viewed the most, and how long readers stay on a page. Research done on what people primarily click on has shown that any type of headline, especially from social media, is much more reliant on the absence of information, including short words, questions, or misleading quotes (Kuiken et al. 2017). The reason is because of how clickbait is used to grasp the attention of the viewer quickly, especially due to the short attention span of the average person. According to a 2016 Microsoft survey of media consumption in Canada, the average attention span has fallen to eight seconds, down from 12 in the year 2000 (Egan, 2016).
Headlines that entice people’s curiosity use titles with epistemic curiosity, or titles with strong information in them, and novelty-based headlines. Young people are more likely to click on novelty-based headlines because they have a greater sense of taking chances even if the outcome of what they read is not what they expected (Venneti & Alam 2018). Our body releases dopamine at a high level in anticipation of a reward rather that receiving the reward, which can be compared to why people gamble (Gardiner 2017). Therefore, people click on a title in anticipation that the article will exceed their expectations. Research done on 69,907 headlines by four international media outlets in 2014 found out that strongly positive or strongly negative news attracted mores readers, especially if the sentiment expressed in the headline is extreme (Rieis et al. 2015). Headlines with a level of uncertainty, especially involving positive or negative news, is very relevant in the world of politics. Forward referenced and questioned based headlines are now more commonly used than traditional headlines that would provide an overview of what the article is about (Scacco 2016). Once again, this uses a curiosity-based headline method that forces people to click on the article.
Deixis and Anaphora word use is common in most headlines that establish a form of curiosity because they involve using pronouns and rhythms to persuade people into clicking on an article or video (Chakraborty et al. 2017). A study done by BuzzSumo reviewed 100 million articles shared on Facebook discovered that the top three headlines of those articles included the phrases, “will make you, this is why, can we guess.” This is example of how articles use words to spark the curiosity of readers (Rayson 2018). Junk news posts on Facebook use a form of clickbait that has increased the amount of junk news that the average person sees. Since 2016, the average number of interactions per junk news posts consistently beats the average number of interactions per mainstream news posts (Burger et al. 2019). With younger people having a greater chance of being deceived by clickbait, this also affects the way in which information is shared. A study, which measured 11 million posts on Twitter quantifying the way in which people interact with clickbait news headlines, found out that a younger demographic of people was more likely to retweet or share misinformation from clickbait articles (Glenski et al. 2018). This shows the versatility in how clickbait is used with news, advertisements, and articles with misinformation.
Clickbait has now become very common on YouTube as a way for user generated content to receive more views. Having more views gives content creators a greater chance in becoming successful and as a result, views are often more important than the quality of video. The growing occurrence of misleading content on YouTube because of clickbait is one reason for the motivation of this research brief. With the quantitative and qualitative information that we have about how clickbait is used throughout all types of media; we would like to use this information to help our mixed-methods study on how influential clickbait is for viewers of YouTube content.
Research Questions and Methodology:
Once again, the aim of our continuing research into the world of “clickbait,” is to get an answer to the following question: how influential is “clickbait” really on the viewers of YouTube content? We also intend to seek out the answers to a set of sub questions that we have composed, which would fall under our overarching question:
- How much do people rely on titles/thumbnails/pictures when it comes to the selection of a video/article?
- How much time do people spend on consuming YouTube content and how does that relate to the amount of clickbait videos they watch?
Again, we have found that Uses and Gratifications Theory as our theoretical framework is the most appropriate for our study. “The uses and gratifications approach assumes that individual differences among audience members cause each person to seek out different messages, use those messages differently, and respond to them uniquely” (Bryant et al, 2013). Though, this theory works best for use of media over a series of time, we feel that this framework best fits with our motivation for this study and for the questions we seek answers to. Additionally, “clickbait” has been around much longer than the last few years, as we have discussed in our summary of literature, “clickbait” exists many areas outside of YouTube, like the news for one example. When it comes to “clickbait” in both making it and consuming it, it is heavily involved with the people who consume it. It also focuses on how people perceive and use messages in the media, also how consumers of “clickbait” respond to this kind of content (anger, curiosity, no response, etc). While this theoretical framework could be used for both qualitative and quantitative methods, we have found a strong connection in yielding qualitative results from this.
The first method we would like to use in alignment with our theoretical framework is an online survey, which we have created as a team. “This type of research allows for a variety of methods to recruit participants, collect data, and utilize various methods of instrumentation” (Ponto, 2015). Most importantly, the survey method yields primarily quantitative data, which we have found imperative that we begin with before any other method. The actual completion of most surveys can be done online which would work in our favor and the favor of all those that choose to participate. The subjects we are looking for are undergraduate college students, and they have very busy schedules. By creating an online option, this leaves them to be able to answer our questions when they have downtime and this can be easily done on any mobile device.
Moving forward, onto our qualitative method, would be interviews which, “enable researchers to obtain information they cannot gain by observation alone” (Berger, 191). Sure, we can gather numerical measures of the responses we get, but that only partially answers our questions. In addition to that, tone and realistic feeling is very hard to accurately measure via online means, and therefore, it is imperative that we speak to at least some of our research subjects. More specifically, our interviews can be unstructured, “in these interviews, the researcher is focused and is trying to gain information, but he or she exercises relatively little control over the responses of the informant” (Berger, 193). Through interviews, we are trying to really gain an understanding of the genuine thoughts and feelings of our subjects. So, when we are asking them questions about their survey responses, we want them to have the full freedom to answer however they want. If we wanted to control their answers, we could not truly answer the question of how influential “clickbait” is, since we would also be influencing their answers.
Conducting the Study
When conducting our study, we would like to use our survey to collect quantitative data from the answers we get from participants. Our survey would be sent out via email to the undergraduate students of Montclair State University, and in regard to the age-range of our subjects, we would expect most to be between the ages of 18 and 22. First, to gather some preliminary data, we would do a very small sampling by having our roommates on campus take the survey themselves. Moving forward, if there was a need to alter the questions we would, but with at least the beginnings of what we would expect from our survey, it would then be sent to all MSU undergraduate students. The survey itself consists of 20 questions and before students start the survey they will have a prompt explaining what the survey is looking for, about how long it will take, and the reward of 30 flex dollars for completion. Under this prompt, students must sign their name for consent to take this survey, and from there, they can begin.
To measure the results of and also in composing our survey, we would like to model our work after a study done by Buzzsumo titled, “We have a mix of open and closed questions in the survey to get a variety of answers that we can use to accurately measure what we are looking for” (Rayson, 2017). In addition to the questions we already have, we would also like to make up some of our own titles using some of the phrasing analyzed in Buzzsumo’s study. We could make up not only some fake YouTube video titles, but also thumbnails as well, then ask our subjects which they would be most interested to click on. For example, we could use some of the biggest headline hits they used like: “will make you,” “this is why,” or “X things only” (Rayson, 2017).
One of our titles would be in ALL CAPS, one with “not clickbait” inserted, and perhaps one or two that just look like regular titles. We could then use some of the same titles when we ask our subjects to choose a video based more on the thumbnails we make. Next, we need to gather our qualitative data, and as we have mentioned in the research questions and methodology section of this brief, through one-on-one interviews. After the surveys are complete, we plan to invite each subject to these interviews and once this last step is done, we would then give them the promised 30 flex dollars.
Some questions we could ask would look something like the following:
- I noticed that you clicked on (insert title here) over (insert title here), why might that be?
- I noticed that you selected the answer “no” to the question, “do you think you need an exaggerated title or image in order for a video to catch your interest?” What then, do you feel attracts your attention to media content and why?
- I see that you have selected the “moderately positive” choice for the question, “do you think clickbait is a positive or negative thing for YouTube?” what explanation can you give for that answer?
The interview section in our study is crucial, as it should show us the reliance people have on titles/thumbnails/pictures when it comes to the selection of a video/article. It will also give us a better understanding of the type of genres that our subjects watch on a daily basis. This information can help us understand more clearly if different genres are more susceptible of using clickbait. By learning about how each of our subject consumes different types of YouTube content, it will be much easier to narrow down why certain genres may use click bait while others may not. We also anticipate learning how consumption time connects to the amount of “clickbait” consumed. A survey may provide us with a lot of desired results, but we cannot truly measure with surveys alone. Going back to Uses and Gratifications Theory, we want to learn how people react and use the media content they consume, especially “clickbait.” Once the interviews are completed and transcribed, as we plan to audio-record these interviews with the participants’ consent, we will use the qualitative data from the interviews in a contextual analysis. We would use the survey answers to inform and connect back to, the one-on-one discussions we had with participants.
We had asked around to many of our fellow undergraduate students at Montclair State University if they would like to help us get preliminary research for a project by taking a short survey. Many were asked (I, Sydnee personally asked ten people), and in the end we received five responses in total. Our survey was created through a survey-making site and then the anonymous link was sent out to the five who had agreed to take it via Facebook Messenger. Four out of the five were male, and each student was in a different field of studies. Some results to note are as follows:
- 4 out of the 5 watched YouTube content for 0-5 hours a week
- In response to the question asking if they chose a video for the enticing thumbnail 3 out of the 5 said “definitely yes”
- 4 out of the 5 said that the use of ALL CAPS or “not clickbait” in the title makes them more tempted to click
- When asked if they need clickbait to catch their interest 3 out o5 5 said “maybe”
- All 5 had negative feelings when “clickbaited” on YouTube
- When asked if “clickbait” was positive or negative for YouTube, 4 out of 5 said it was “neither positive nor negative”
- In regard to whether or not they are aware of or fall for clickbait see Figure 1 below:
Our study incorporates two main elements which are survey research and individual interviews. Both rely entirely on people participating in the study, which could lead to some of the considerations we feel we might run into during this process. In the quantitative part of our study, we will be conducting a survey that will give us numerical based data that will be used to satisfy our preliminary research goals. For the survey we are conducting, we have 20 questions that vary in type and it is going to be administered completely online. The main consideration we have regarding the survey is that we might not get as much people as we need to participate, which would cause a major problem because this study is very reliant on having a lot of respondents because clickbait effects a large population and in order to get enough data to get a realistic measurement we would need a lot of participants. The reason we have this consideration is because most undergraduate students we ask might say they don’t have the time to take about 10-15 minutes out of their day to fill out this survey. Aside from potentially having a hard time actually getting people to participate, there might be the problem of students not seeing that the survey is even being offered because we plan to send it out through their school emails and we know that a lot of students don’t always check their inboxes and might just unintentionally miss it. We have a prompt in the beginning of the survey that explains all the details about the survey and tells the participants that they will receive 30 flex dollars if they complete it, which we feel added a motivation for the potential respondents. We think we should add that we would like to invite them for an individual interview to further discuss their survey results to the prompt and give the flex dollars after interviews are conducted to ensure people will actually agree to do the interviews. We think that if we did not have that initial invitation for them to participate in the individual interview, they would just take the reward of 30 flex dollars after finishing the survey and not agree to any further discussion. The final consideration we have for the survey research we are conducting is the questions themselves. We feel that some of them could be worded very differently because they sound a little confusing and could lead to some of the respondents skipping those questions, which would negatively affect the results we need to get from the survey. Also, we feel that we don’t have enough answer choices to some of our multiple choice questions. For example, for the question we have about what gender the respondent identifies as, we should add an “other (and please specify)” option which we did not originally include. This one is very important because everyone that is participating in the survey should feel that they have a choice that fits them.
For our qualitative part of the study, we have a few considerations as well. Individual interviews could be a big problem for us because we want to include college students and as we stated before, they might say that they don’t have enough time in their busy schedules to sit down and further discuss their survey answers. Aside from them not having time, they also might just not want to participate in general, which is why we think we need to have some kind of reward for doing it, which could entice them. Another consideration we have is that the people we ask might not be entirely truthful with their answers, even though they won’t be in a focus group where they would have to share their answers in front of other people, we feel they might not want to be completely honest even in an individual interview setting. Also, some of their reasons for clicking on the videos they chose might not even be anything concrete and they might simply say that they don’t know why they chose it and there might not have been any reason behind it.
For our preliminary research, we have noticed some issues we may run into with students, the first being that not all five answered every single question and so we may need to reprogram the survey so that they must answer. Second, all of them used the anonymous link but signed their name, in which case we would need to add to our consent prompt that their identification will be removed and only their answers will be shared. Also, none of the students we saw took the survey were available for an interview, since it was finals season, so we may need to consider when this survey and interview period would take place.
Our survey also should take a lot less time than we thought, it may only really take five to ten minutes, and we could eliminate/alter some questions. It is possible we could remove the question on gender, as it doesn’t seem to have a significant effect on answers to our questions. We have a lot of considerations that we are keeping in mind for both parts of our study, but we feel that it will actually be successful and can give us both the quantitative and qualitative data we need to analyze to come to a conclusion about our research questions we would like to answer.
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- Venneti, L., & Alam, A. (2018). How Curiosity can be modeled for a Clickbait Detector. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsarx&AN=edsarx.1806.04212&site=eds-live&scope=site
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