Click Click

Written by: Murtaza M Taher Ajmeri.

Aljamea-tus-Saifiyah Nairobi.

When was the last time you were tempted to click on catchy headlines like these? These days it seems as though every website resorts to such iniquitous tricks to get you to click on things they want you to click.

As the name implies, Clickbait is something that tricks (baits/lures/entices) you into clicking on something which may or may not contain the content advertised. clickbait has several characteristics; an eye-catching headline, easily skimmable content, and funny or attractive images. The main intention behind any clickbait is to prompt the user to visit the page, thus increasing page views. More page views mean higher ad revenue, which results in bigger profits for the site publishers.

Companies like Buzzfeed and Outbrain make money with each click on their advertisement links. Websites pay them to publish their ads on their pages. CNN, Business Insider, Fox – all of them use these ads. According to Eric Hadley, former marketing chief at Outbrain, these ads are ‘clearly working’. He stated that people may laugh at these ads, but get trapped into clicking them more often than not.

But how does clickbait successfully hook us? We, as humans, are drawn to seek out information because of our innate curious nature. Clickbait headlines make us inquisitive (anxious) to find out what is behind the curtain. The use of specific phrases such as ’10 reasons why’ or ‘shocking facts about’ trigger our curiosity. Psychologically speaking, Clickbait works because the promise of interesting information activates a particular dopamine pathway. Dopamine, a hormone in our body, is released whenever eye-catching information is available. It creates the itch and curiosity which can only be relieved by clicking that link. Another big reason why clickbait works so well on us is that it manages to trigger our emotions: shock, fear, and happiness. The fear of missing out, presented in a very ‘you won’t believe this’ type of format triggers powerful anxiety, and that anxiety is one of the biggest reasons we are so glued to social media and always desire to stay updated.

Furthermore, the reason why people are attracted to these links is because they are presented with what concerns them. Clickbait companies intelligently track the websites a person visits or the Google searches they make through the cookies. Cookies are messages that web servers pass to your web browser whenever you visit internet sites. In this way, it becomes easy to generate relative (relatable) headlines tailored to the users interests and familiarities using the data from browser cookies.

Clickbait isn’t necessarily always bad. Many businesses use it positively to market valuable content to a much larger audience. Others may also use this user-friendly and economical platform for educational purposes; to spread pertinent information among people. However, the negative aspects of this tool cannot be ignored. Malicious individuals use clickbait to promote scams, (viruses) links, and malware. They hope that by getting users to click, they can trick them into downloading and installing malware onto their computer.

From an Islamic perspective, deception and dishonesty, which are extensively seen in clickbait, are always regarded in a negative sense. Rasul Allah SAW has stated: ‘Always fulfil your promises.’ He has also prohibited us from treachery and dishonesty on numerous occasions. Imam Jafar us Sadiq SA has stated that one should never promise a specific thing and provide something different and inferior to the promised standard. In many circumstances, the click bait links aren’t even attempts at good marketing, but rather means to spread malicious links and other online viruses. In most cases, however, because the intentions are to simply get clicks and generate larger numbers of page views or to spread malicious content, most clickbait content does not deliver on its promise. Only upon opening the link can we discern what we have been shown. Furthermore, Al Dai’ al Ajal Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin TUS has stated: ‘With the click of a button, a person can see the whole world. It has many benefits, but not without its setbacks. This is because one website sometimes opens many others, which often causes a lot of damage.’ (Translation, 1438H)

So the question is: to click or not to click? Clickbait may seem to satisfy one’s curiosity, but are the potential gains worth the risks?