For more than 25 years, the Onion has lampooned journalism with its parodies of everything from politics and business to “local news” and sports. Now it’s setting its sights on click-baiting websites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy with Clickhole, which launched this month.
The new platform does an outstanding and hilarious job of taking down a trend that has annoyed journalists relentlessly over the past couple years: hyperbolic, over-the-top headlines that draw readers into content that usually fails to deliver on what has been promised. To be fair, this technique is quite effective — these posts clog up my Facebook news feed on a daily basis. But the actual content associated with the headlines usually disappoints, and often amounts to a reposted YouTube video or a gif-filled list of something like “20 Signs You Grew Up in the ‘90s.”
For those of us with journalism backgrounds, it’s easy to dismiss click baiting as a cheap form of content marketing. But it continues to dominate social media due to the enticement it offers users to share content — even if that content doesn’t really provide anything useful to readers. Even news outlets like CNN and the Huffington Post have used this technique, to some criticism.
The Onion takes notice
With Clickhole, the folks at the Onion have created a full website dedicated to making fun of click-baiters — namely the fact that the content they actually provide — after the jump — is devoid of any real meaning. It parodies all sorts of this digital content, including BuzzFeed-style lists, Upworthy’s ridiculously long, and over-dramatic headlines and those annoying, self-affirming quizzes that seem to draw in so many Facebook users.
One of the first videos Clickhole posted was of this adorable little girl who tells us the truth behind click-baiting:
Send-ups of click baiting are nothing new, as the Twitter feed @Upworthit has more than 8,000 followers and is one of my personal favorites. However, this is really the first time that a full-scale website has been created dedicated to it. For all of us with journalism degrees and who take pride in writing strong, compelling content that actually provides value to readers, we can only hope that Clickhole encourages social media users to think twice before sharing content that doesn’t live up to its hype.
Steve Bailey is president of ProPRcopy, a copywriting firm that provides blog content, website copy, press releases, articles and other written content to businesses and organizations around the world.