Normally, I don’t care about clickbait, because so much of it is being posted by garbage sites known as “content farms” that have so little credibility that they don’t deserve any attention.
In case you don’t know what a content farm is, you’ve probably encountered them more times than you care to admit. These are the websites that produce what are known as “fluff pieces”, or articles of so little substance or information that they cause people to think, “That’s two minutes of my life back that I’ll never get back.” Zergnet is a major hub of these type of trashy articles:
Content farms, because they have very little or nothing new to say, will often rely on inflammatory clickbait or provocative opinions bordering on trolling to generate as many clicks as possible, because the more people click onto their sites, the more ad revenue they get.
If there’s any saving grace to content farms, it’s that they tend to stay in their own lane, which makes avoiding them–and their clickbait–very easy. Not only that, it’s very rare for content farm clickbait to gain any traction, anyway. Because of this, my philosophy has always been: why get riled up by clickbait? If some garbage site like The Richest or Nicki Swift or other similar place wants to pump out clickbait filled with inaccuracies or misleading content, who cares? It’s not like it’s going to get picked up by mainstream outlets, so live and let live.
Every so often, though, this happens: like the proverbial turd in the punchbowl, the garbage that is the content farm will seep its way into the mainstream. Before I know it, trashy clickbait will somehow keep making it into my newsfeed, because a respected, trusted source will have made the stupid decision to start hiring hacks from the Buzzfeed School of Journalism.
To make matters worse, because the now infected publication in question still has its sterling reputation, the clickbait will be given a level of clout that it otherwise would not have been given if it hadn’t been published on a lesser site. Consequently, like a raging case of sepsis, the clickbait will get picked up by other media outlets or shared like crazy on social media, because it’s seen as credible.
Like I said, I ordinarily couldn’t care less about clickbait. However, I saw a piece of clickbait that was so disgusting, I felt the need to both call it out and expose it, so that unsuspecting readers who’ve been sharing this particular junk article I’m about to tear apart understand exactly what it is, but also how to spot others like it in the future.
The article in question is Variety’s clickbait listicle, The 100 Greatest Movies of All Time. I’m not going to justify this piece of garbage by complaining about the films that shouldn’t have been put on there or the movies that were left out. That would be giving the bottom feeding hacks at Variety what they want–and too much credit.
No, no, no, my friends. I will not take the bait, nor will I be feeding the trolls. What I will do is expose the art and science of entertainment clickbait listicles, from my days as a contributor at Squidoo, so everyone understands what that listicle at Variety is all about.
To elaborate, years and years ago, there were a large number of vanity publishing sites that invited people to write for them. Initially, these were great and fun sites to write for and make money from. However, bottom feeders discovered how much money everyone was making, and started gaming Google page rank with low quality content. Before long, Squidoo, HubPages and other sites became flooded with thousands of listicles and clickbait articles a month, since contributors would get paid per page view. This is how the content farm was born.
Spammy, low content listicles were a big no-no for Google, and content farms did everything they could to delete the bottom feeders in anticipation of the search engine wiping them off the face of cyberspace. But stopping them became a classic case of too little, too late. Google eventually scrubbed or penalized all of these sites with what became known as the Panda Update.
When Google Panda unrolled, I thought that content farms were dead. But apparently, what happened is that the black hatters and bottom feeders from Squidoo, HubPages and other places simply flew under the radar and started throwing up crap sites and platforms like We’ve Got This Covered, The Mary Sue, and Nicki Swift. And now, with those sites having escaped Google’s wrath, bottom feeders are now jumping ship to infiltrate heralded institutions like Variety with clickbait, particularly in the form of what’s known as a listicle, as in “Top 10 Restaurants in Your State,” or “Top 20 Singers of All Time,” etc.
Why the listicle? Because this is the easiest form of clickbait there is, especially for writers of low IQ, class or education. Just to show you how this type of clickbait works, I’ll break it down step by step:
- Pick a popular subject–particularly related to showbiz, music or Hollywood–and base a “Top ___” List around, with the intention of making it as controversial as possible.
- Add some legitimate entries as a token gesture, to keep the list from looking totally discreditable.
- Go out of the way to throw in complete and utter bullshit, so that readers are enraged into explaining why it doesn’t qualify to be on the list or is so bad that it shouldn’t have been picked at all.
- Leave out the most obvious picks, to further outrage readers to demand that they be included.
- Make sure to deliberately poorly rank everything, so that the weaker entries outrank the better ones, to further generate outrage (and clicks). For instance, in a list about the best female singers of all time, put Cardi B. above Aretha Franklin, and Britney Spears above Barbara Streisand.
Not only is the above how and why Variety crafted its B.S. Top 100 Greatest Movies list, the editors were completely self-aware that this is what they were doing. How do I know this? Besides the list just being blatant clickbait, the editors resorted to borderline-sociopathic tactics of “psychology” to try to confuse readers into not recognizing their listicle as such. Case in point:
Do we want you to argue with this list? Of course we do. That’s the nature of the beast — the nature of the kind of protective passion that people feel about their favorite movies.
The nature of clickbait is to post nonsense designed to trigger the type of negative reaction that will make readers want to stick around and linger on a website or share the article in an outrage. In this case, the editors chose to outrage-bait readers. But to cover their tracks, they framed the outrage-bait as merely being in the spirit of healthy debate, then mischaracterized the triggered responses as merely being a natural response of feeling passionate about favorite movies.
Moving right along:
Do we want you to argue with this list? Of course we do. That’s the nature of the beast — the nature of the kind of protective passion that people feel about their favorite movies. We invited prominent filmmakers and actors to contribute essays about the movies that are significant to them, and that passion comes across in all that they wrote.
I want readers to understand what’s going on here. This is a very shady tactic known as “equivocation.” Equivocation is shifting the context of a word in one sense to another. For example, it’s saying something like, “Of course, we should invade this country. We have military intelligence to go on that says that it’s up to no good. Besides, anyone with intelligence will agree that now is the time to strike.” In this example, the person saying this is deliberately shifting the meaning of the word, “intelligence,” to mean two different things.
In the excerpt above, this is the tactic that the editors of Variety pulled. First, they told the readers that the reason why they would want to be argumentative over the list is that people are naturally passionate about their favorite movies. But then the editors shifted gears and informed these same “passionate” readers that they’d be reading essays for the movies on the listicle by “prominent” filmmakers and actors writing passionately about their favorite films.
The whole point of this, once again, is “psychology.” The editors went from talking about the passion of readers to the passion of the filmmakers and actors “invited” to contribute to the bullshit listicle they crafted. The reason why they did this was simple–though they wanted readers to “argue” with them over the list (for the clickz), they threw in this little bit of information to also cow them from getting too argumentative. The implication here is that though a person might be passionate enough to want to argue against a movie they feel shouldn’t be on the list, it’s their “passionate” opinion versus those of Hollywood insiders.
I have no idea what the hell has happened to Variety, one of the oldest, most respected entertainment publications next to Billboard Magazine and Rolling Stone. All I know is that this listicle is so beneath contempt that it would be flattering the content farmers who culled it to argue with them about their picks. I say, “flatter”, because this was not a list that was pulled together with any level of thoughtfulness or insight by intelligent people who know or care about film. It’s clickbait by content farm bottom feeders wanting clicks at any cost.
Since this is the road that Variety has now chosen to go down, the magazine no longer has any credibility to speak of and should be written off as just another content farm, not an industry paper or a trustworthy site for entertainment news. Just my two cents.
Wow! Thank you for sharing your insight into this world. I think a huge part of the problem here is that western society doesn’t think of itself as one that believes in myths, but it does believe in myth quite dogmatically: the myth of progress. that newer opinions are more true and newer practices more effective than older ones, just because they’re new; most believe that the older an idea is, the more certain it is to be wrong.
Sad to see variety regress info just another “content generator” – I guess that’s progress?
We’ve definitely regressed. Content farms are the digital version of what used to be called Yellow Journalism, which was squashed a century ago. So, it’s like Big Tech and Google has wiped out 100 centuries of journalistic standards to bring us back to the days of William Randolph Hearst, before writers knew any better.
I’m so astounded, but I don’t know what we can do at this point. Politicians–who are in a position to do something–are totally asleep at the wheel, but in all fairness, it’s because they’ve become victims of “internet fatigue.” What happened is that they got so fed up with what the internet has become that they gave up on it, but now what’s happening is a classic “when the cat’s away, the mice will play” situation. Big Tech is completely having the run of everyone right now.