If you follow big-name blogs and op-eds, chances are you've come across any of the following at least once: a) authors overstating or misinterpreting the results of an academic/scientific study, often so they can argue a controversial opinion as if it were fact OR worse, b) authors that make a controversial argument without even attempting to offer facts to support it. Although this is nothing new to journalism, I get a feeling that it's getting worse--especially due to an online publisher-advertiser model that incentivizes publishers to drive as much traffic as possible. Enter linkbait.* Is it good writing? No. Is it sound science/argumentation? No. Will it drive traffic? Yes, in part because it's so controversial (or sometimes downright offensive) that it gets people talking and linking to it on blogs and social media, which ultimately drives that sweet, sweet traffic to their site.
I don't think this trend is going to go away any time soon. So, why am I even talking about it? Well, mainly: I want people to be aware of it, recognize when they're reading an article that's clearly linkbait, and take any claims made with a grain of salt. Be skeptical and critical! Really, this is just a good rule of thumb when evaluating any argument.
But while plenty of bloggers talk about the shoddy argumentation and offensive rhetoric in these pieces--and there will be plenty of that--I also want to focus on the pseudo-scientific claims, poor research design, and confirmation bias (and how readers can spot it, too!)**
So if you're into that kind of thing, stay tuned for future posts with the "linkbait" tag!
*Linkbait doesn't just come in the form of articles. Sometimes it's provocative (and often sexist and problematic) imagery.
**You might be thinking: but C, won't you just be driving more traffic to their site by discussing their articles and linking to them? Well, joke's on them, I don't have a big enough readership to generate a significant amount of traffic anyway (ha ha)! But seriously, I don't think I could put a dent in this practice even if I had a big following. Linkbait is pretty entrenched, and will likely remain that way as long as publisher-advertiser dynamics stay the same way too. For what's it worth: if I put on my "online marketer cap" I do predict an eventual shift in the publisher-advertiser model because a) paying for ads on a CPM basis is for suckers and b) why drive traffic if you can't even monetize it?