Internet Rant

The Backlash Against Link Bait has Begun

Posted .


In my last blog post, I made the case for why link bait needs to go the way of the toilet spider hoax email. Today, I’m excited to see that I’m not alone in this sentiment.

This blog post from the New Yorker with an ironic link-bait title notes that, inevitably, as the formula for a viral headline becomes widely understood and used, it’s power is lost:

The irony, of course, is that the more data we mine, and the closer we come to determining a precise calculus of sharing, the less likely it will be for what we know to remain true. If emotion and arousal are key, then, in a social application of the observer effect, we may be changing what will become popular even as we’re studying it. “If everyone is perfectly implementing the best headline to pass on, it’s not as effective any more,” Berger says. “What used to be emotionally arousing simply isn’t any longer.”

Like a quantum mechanical system, measurement changes the system. We can never have perfect knowledge of what makes something popular. This is a good thing.

Better yet, a new Chrome Plugin called Downworthy by Alison Gianotto, aka @snipeyhead on Twitter will replace hyperbolic headlines with more realistic text:

  • “Literally” becomes “Figuratively”
  • “Will Blow Your Mind” becomes “Might Perhaps Mildly Entertain You For a Moment”
  • “One Weird Trick” becomes “One Piece of Completely Anecdotal Horseshit”
  • “Go Viral” becomes “Be Overused So Much That You’ll Silently Pray for the Sweet Release of Death to Make it Stop”
  • “Can’t Even Handle” becomes “Can Totally Handle Without Any Significant Issue”
  • “Incredible” becomes “Painfully Ordinary”
  • “You Won’t Believe” becomes “In All Likelihood, You’ll Believe”

Here’s a screenshot of Viral Nova with and without it:


I’m already enjoying it. And looking forward to a link bait free future. Until the next scheme comes along. Any ideas on what that might be? Please share them in the comments.