Mental Model for clickbait detection.
(6 Min Read) A simple mental model to stay away from clickbait content especially Recruiting emails.
Abstract: In this post, I discuss a mental-model I use to identify clickbait content. Avoiding clickbait content has been a great time saver and noise reducer. In section 1/ and 2/, I explain what is clickbait and why it exists. Section 3/ discusses the “proposed” solutions by tech giants. And finally in sections 4/ and 5/, the mental model to avoid clickbait content on the web and in email.
1/ What is ClickBait or Bait-and-Switch❓
Clickbait is a form of false advertisement. It lures customers with false and misleading claims and the content is bland. Before the Internet, ClickBait fraud existed in the form of Bait-and-Switch. Advertise something attractive and switch to a costly product when the customer is in the shop. In retails, bait-and-switch is still a prevalent technique. Here are a few examples of bait-and-switch used today:
Bait: Advertising new <insert-brand-name> car for $0 down payment.
Switch: At the dealer, the deal is only available on last year’s specific model of a specific color.
Bait: Get upto $300 for an old phone and get the latest <insert-brand-name> phone today.
Switch: Deal only gives $50-100 for your phone as it is an old model and does not have much resale value.
Bait: Get 2 12-pack for <insert-brand-name> soda for price of one.
Switch: This is only available when you buy 6 12-packs of soda.
And many more. The e-version of bait-and-switch is clickbait. They are usually article titles/subjects of the content. Here are a few examples of that:
Lose 40 pounds in one month.
10 things that billionaires do that will make you rich.
Make a 6 figure salary as a passive income and retire early.
We are all familiar with clickbait titles. If you are thinking that this blog post title is clickbait-y too, let me assure you that it is not.
2/ Why ClickBait content exists? 🤔
Before we dive into how to avoid clickbait content, let’s identify the root cause of the problem. And see if we can fix it at the source. We will use the first principle method to identify why clickbait content exists.
Why do content creators generate clickbait titles? Because it influences and attracts more users to view the content.
Why do they need users to view the content? Because then users will spend more time on the content website.
Why do they want users to spend more time on the website? Because then the user will see more ads (number of ads or length of ads).
Why do they want to show users more ads? Because then websites can charge ad-makers for ad views per user and they makes money.
By reasoning using the first principles, we know that the goal is to make money. If a website can make money, either by subscription or offering a service or a product, they could stop with clickbait content. This will fix the problem at the source.
As a reader, I cannot tell how each and every website should make money. Because I don’t know their business.
What I care about and you should too, is the time we waste reading clickbait crappy content.
3/ Solution from tech giants 🤦♂️
Tech giants have recognized clickbait content as a problem. It took them a while but they are finally there. Google and Facebook have added guidelines on their ad platforms to deter clickbait advertisement. But I am not sure how many of these guidelines are implemented. And how effectively they are enforced. After all, ads are how they make money. But I am hopeful that an effective systemic solution will come from these tech giants someday. 🤞
Some tech nerds including myself are users trying to identify clickbait content using machine learning. Although promising, I am skeptical that getting these to perfection or even acceptable good standard will take time. And the solution may be hard to scale.
And more importantly, ads is not the only way we get exposed to clickbait content. It gets delivered to us as emails, messages, blog posts, and news headlines. So we really need a way to filter out clickbait content at the browser level. Until we have an opensource browser plugin that doesn’t steel our data 😡, we have to do this manually.
Now, you must be may be wondering, how do we do that?
The good news is that we humans are actually very good at identifying clickbait content. In the next section, I highlight the mental model I use to stay away from clickbait crap. It's not perfect but works 95% of the time.
4/ Mental model for identifying Clickbait content 🧠
Most of the clickbait content share these common traits:
The title is overpromising. For example, this 1 trick will help you lose 40 pounds in 1 week. 100% of the time I have been disappointed with an overpromising article. 🤧
The title is a list or has specific numbers. For example, 10 things that billionaires do. 🔢
The title has keywords like
“This”, “You”, “I”
“You won’t believe”, or something surprising
😱 “Shock you/shocking/shocker” or other words that imply shocking behavior
From a clickbait website.
Using these 4 filters helps me avoid clicking 95% of clickbait content. Just by reading them, you are now better at clickbait detection. With little practice, it will take less than 1 second for you to identify them. So let's practice and apply above filters:
32 Products That Should Have "Designed By A Genius" Printed On Their Labels
21 Punny Halloween Costumes That Are So Clever, You’ll Wish You Thought Of Them First
We Know What Month Your Soulmate Was Born In Based On The Party You Plan
Tell Us Your Favorite Foods And We'll Guess Your Favorite Day Of The Week
Wanna Know How Good You Really Are At "Among Us"? Just Pretend To Play The Game To Find Out
What's The Most Shocking TV Betrayal Of All Time?
I Bet You Can't Answer Just One Math Question For All 13 Grades In The US
And, these were all the trendy headlines from a clickbaity website.
It is easy to create a clickbait title. It is hard to create an inquisitive title that is not clickbait. That’s another reason why so many people take the easy route and create click-bait content. If I change the title of this post to
“1-second rule to avoid 95% of clickbait title click.”
“This 4 step list will help you avoid 95% of clickbait articles.”
“Shocking mental model to prevent clicking clickbait titles”
Even though all the above titles are true, the title is clickbaity. You should avoid that content. I guarantee that 99.99% of the time it will not be shocking content. It never is.
5/ Clickbait in Emails (Recruiter Emails) 🧠 🤜 📩
I know you are thinking that the above example was pretty straightforward and you never fall for them. Think again. What about all the emails from recruiters? Does anyone of these sound clickbaity:
Founding Engineer at VC-backed <industry> Startup (fully remote)
<Startup Name> (Former <TechGiant> CEO's New Company) *Remote
These emails are lower on the time-wasting scale. But they are still clickbait subject lines. You may not spend a lot of time reading the email but it is still time wasted if you are trying to maintain a clean inbox.
For me, these emails head straight to the trash. Email filters set up using the above 4 rules works great. They save me time and headaches.
I hope this article was helpful. I hope this mental model saves you time browsing through clickbait landmines of the Internet. If you like what you read, please consider subscribing for more of non-clickbait useful content.
If you find this useful, please share it with your parents or someone you think can be benefitted from this.