‘You won’t believe’ has become one of the most popular headlines for trending articles and pop culture buzz lists. The truth is that the reader probably shouldn’t believe the headline, because a profound amount of the content that follows it falls short of qualifying as compelling or unbelievable. What you should believe is that following content of this ilk most likely wasted your time and served as an irritation. Maybe it even shaved minutes off of your life expectancy because of the level of frustration you felt after reading an article that took about as much time to write as the provocative headline.
A quick scroll through Google reveals:
You Won’t Believe What This Dress Is Made Out Of
18 Weird German Words You Won’t Believe Exist
19 Images You Won’t Believe Aren’t Photoshopped
27 Stunning Works of Art You Won’t Believe Aren’t Photographs
You Won’t Believe What This Seal Did To This Journalist
You won’t believe what was in this Easter egg
42 People You Won’t Believe Actually Exist
9 People You Won’t Believe Actually Exist
9 Dogs You Won’t Believe Actually Exist
29 Dogs You Won’t Believe Actually Exist
It’s stunning to note the plethora of headlines and topics that place the sheer existence of the topic into a suspension of disbelief. While many of the headlines are people and personality-based, the other targeted subject is animals. Not yet seen: 29 People You Won’t Believe Are Actually Animals.
The aggregator Buzzfeed is one of the most notorious users and abusers of the ‘You won’t believe’ headline trope. They are the masters of nesting the phrase You won’t believe into the headline, often leading with a number to provoke further amazement. It’s not The One Definitive Surreal Place You Won’t Believe Exists, rather it’s 25 Surreal Places You Won’t Believe Actually Exist, as if the abundance of surreality is more provocative when it hits the double digits. Notice also the clever use of the word Actually to offset against the unsettling word Surreal. Brilliance. Just sheer brilliance.
The daily cerebral stream known as BrainJet has gotten into the game too, daring to pillage and plunder Buzzfeed’s strategies left, right, and center, as in their blaring entry, 17 BIZARRE HISTORICAL IMAGES YOU WON’T BELIEVE ACTUALLY HAPPENED. Here we have not only the numerical emphasis, but all CAPITAL letters to further embellish just how unbelievable the piece truly is. Add the spicy word BIZARRE and you’ve got the ingredients for one truly great article, right? Uh, no. Not exactly. You won’t believe how little content is offered, with only captions to photographs for the busy reader to blast through. You won’t believe how disappointing the payoff is on articles in this realm. Yet people continue to click, click, click. That’s proof of how easy it is to hook a surfer.
It’s not just the big sites that use these hyperbolic headlines — bloggers, forum moderators, and social media aggregators have all gotten in on the action. You won’t believe what this HuffPo reporter mistakes for rubber bullets is a favorite, as it integrates the headline grabber, pulls in Twitter feeds and re-tweeted photo replies, and mocks the Huffington Post source, all while delivering a fun and pithy political rant. But still — is this the kind of journalism we deserve? It is, because it works at driving eyeballs to the content, without regard to qualitative issues.
And when all is said and done, you won’t believe that you fell for another article, poised on a crazily constructed clickbait headline. What makes this piece different, however, is the social commentary that the internet is filled with glaringly cheap content. There. That’s definitive. In fact, this article could list 28 Billion Headline Stories You Won’t Believe Exist. But that would be cheap. And tedious. Creating content to get page views is certainly the agenda for these websites, but is it noble? A great headline cleverly captures the reader’s attention, which is ethical and evidence of old school journalism. The reward is content that offers something stimulating and thought-provoking — or delivers news of a worthy nature, hence the term newsworthy.
But clickbait is a nasty practice — as its very name infers. Going for the bait — taking the bite — getting hooked into viewing you won’t believe content skewers the gullible gills of every reader and leaves them flopping around for something worthy from the experience. Instead, the hook is pulled out and the reader is tossed into the fish box, with the article serving out as much mental nutrition as a chum bucket. The best way to stop this numbingly pervasive trend is to stop clicking on the stories. If you see anything in the headline that says you won’t believe, then believe that what follows is a waste of time on a fabricated story whose substance has likely been plastered around your FaceBook feed a dozen times. Uh…kind of like this one. Oops.
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