Reeled in and sunk by clickbait

Cutting room floor

Unfortunately, there was a time where the 37.2 trillion cells in my body were run by the Kardashians as the powerhouse and “Damn Daniel” as the copilot. With the simple click of a button, I watched my friends let pressing issues slide to make way for arbitrary gossip and consequently marginalized topics that should have raised hell. I watched the people around me give the ring to stories that belonged in the gutter. We cultivated, and essentially morphed into, pop culture trash.   

But this symbiotic relationship shouldn’t come as a surprise. Our generation has slowly treaded into the millennial dumping ground with the help of coaxing clickbait headlines that shove our faces into the very shit that entices us. It’s not necessarily the reader’s fault, or the journalist’s, for that matter.

If we were to point fingers, it would be at everyone.

The young, budding journalist sits at the editor’s desk, scrambling to orchestrate the perfect clickbait and, in turn, the procrastinating readers scroll through their newsfeed until they are reeled in and all of society sinks.

Every time we share a celebrity tabloid, relationship update or “beef” with another multimillionaire, we are committing the biggest unwritten crime. We are giving rise to infamy and restructuring “importance” to mean anything but.  

There was a time when the infamous Donald Trump wasn’t nearly as popular as he is now. But, after garnering attention from the entire world for his obscenities, all a journalist needs to do is tack his name onto an article and watch the number of readers rise. Who wouldn’t click on a CNN headline that says “Donald Trump’s dangerous KKK game”?

How is it possible that after 50 years of “progress” in the civil rights movement, we’ve put a bully behind a podium? Even without a pointy white hat, his horrid hair-do has gotten just as much support from former KKK leader David Duke. Could part of his fame be a result of curious readers clicking on juicy headlines for a laugh?

A majority of the Trump coverage in the media has either mocked him or belittled his platform. Yet, we made a man who should have been laughed out of the running relevant by feeding fuel to the fire, and now he has half of the nation wrapped around his finger, raising their right hands in solidarity. If Kanye West ran our society, he’d claim Trump would be next in our beds because society made him famous. Just like society made the Kardashians, Daniel and DJ Khaled famous. For simply breathing.  

My friends and I may be innocent victims, clicking on stories to distract us from our mundane lives. And reporters may be innocent journalists, simply fulfilling their job description. But this perpetual cycle creates controversies where none existed before and misguides society’s values. We need more “Spotlight” and less TMZ.

There are already so many stories that need to be written, but magazines are still fabricating controversies where none existed before, desperate for readership.

Beyonce’s single mattered more than Rihanna’s whole album, Twitter data shows,” reads one gut-wrenching Complex headline. The article would have slipped into the cracks had the journalist simply commended the artists in their own realms. They needed something to distinguish themselves from the slough of other articles and decided to unnecessarily pit two of the few female, black artists in the industry against each other.

Journalism shouldn’t simply be about getting the most clicks. There should be some ethical barrier that prevents the cumulation of pop culture trash. We need to stop turning our heads away from what’s important and settling for what’s easy or interesting. Keeping up with the Kardashians, Beckhams and Trumps may be great in lieu of discussing the weather, but they’re still no more important than the type of detergent I use.

The next generation is already going to be Snapchatting the birth of their own child. Unless we remind them that social justice, scientific advancements and even local robberies matter more than what DJ Khaled had for breakfast, we are priming a technologically connected, morally ignorant world seconds away from crumbling  — like Kanye West’s Twitter.

Contact Ilaf Esuf at [email protected].