The scary thing in modern media is 'what works' and what works in eliciting an emotional response from an audience. We're all familiar with the concept of 'clickbait', which is content with the main purpose of attracting attention and encouraging visitors to click on a link to a particular web page, regardless of the accuracy of the content.
We are moving into an era of 'emotional clickbait' where media owners produce content that will shock, anger, or upset readers — as it is the most likely to be viewed. Emotional clickbait is all around us.
All you have to do is go onto any major news or social platform and you will see that the most commented on, most trending and 'hottest' topics are the ones with the most emotional sting, and often with the least substance.
The appeal in media is no longer necessarily what makes for good content, but what attracts views, comments and 'Likes'. The current emotional clickbait topic in South Africa is the Corona Virus. Some media platforms are all of a sudden posting opinions ranging from, "This is a common cold, ignore it," to, "It's the end of the world, panic!"
These posts are typical of the extremism that emotional clickbait is associated with. But it has
had an effect on markets, share values and the price of oil.
Consumers are more attracted to news that shocks or elicits an emotional response. So what do the media do? They try and outdo each other when it comes to news that shocks and elicits an emotional response. Bell Pottinger, for example, was an organisation that was built on emotional clickbait.
Each media knows its audience and what will and won't work. They will adapt their editorial policy accordingly. A website called The Edit
learnt an interesting lesson not too long ago.
A junior journalist wrote an article on why she thinks the music of Beyoncé is "overrated AF". The article became the most clicked on and commented on piece on the site. You can imagine how the publishers of the site are relooking their reviewing criteria right now.
To add on, there is an interesting article about a book entitled The God Delusion
by Richard Dawkins. The book is among the many by the author stating that God doesn't exist.
The author of the article postulated that the book will be most read by Christians. Why? Because they disagree with it and want to argue the point. Atheists who don't believe in God are less likely to read a book that affirms what they already think to be true.
So inadvertently, Christians are often the ones funding the writings of Mr Dawkins. It's the supreme irony of emotional clickbait. As South Africans, we need to become more aware of emotional clickbait and actively work to avoid it.
It doesn't give a real
perspective of reality. It is a negative incentive for media owners and drags the fourth estate to the lowest common denominator. Look at the facts and figures. Crack a book open and do some of your own homework on a topic before being dragged down an emotional rabbit hole.
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