Since I started blogging at Patheos, I’ve been thinking about the ethics of click-bait. My old blog was ad-free — but of course it didn’t pay and there was no one to promote it. Here, on the other hand, there’s a great blogging community and a much larger readership — but every post is accompanied by “offers” of recent articles from around the web that nobody in possession of their faculties could possibly be interested in.
It’s quite common for my fellow Catholic bloggers to complain when the images are blatantly sexual, but the truth is that most blatant click-bait works by appealing to our worst impulses. Good Catholics will tend to stop and check themselves before clicking on “Check Out These Amazing Supermodel Butt-Jobs!” or “10 Sweet TV Hotties (#3 Will Have You Reaching For Your Vibrator)” but we’re less likely to check ourselves before clicking on titles that appeal other vices.
The guardianship of our eyes shouldn’t end with a studied avoidance of cleavage. There are six other deadly sins (seven if you’re going by Evagrius), and we might want to consider how click-baiters try to draw us into nourishing other kinds of spiritual disorder:
Pride – There’s an absolutely huge quantity of click-bait out there that is basically superiority-porn: “Look how stupid/incompetent/ugly/loserish these 26 people are!” A series of photographs or screen-caps of people looking or behaving like idiots is accompanied by a running commentary of contemptuous snark. The point is to repeatedly assure us that we’re better than the people we’re laughing at so we can all have a nice little ego-wank. Naturally, no context is given for the embarrassing text or images. And of course, none of us has ever done anything that could be made to look that bad in a listicle.
Envy – “You Won’t Believe These Celebrities Without Their Make-Up!” “7 Hot Stars with Ugly Spouses!” “Hollywood Bikini Fails (You Won’t Believe They Wore These Suits!)” “Watch These Former Millionaires Pay With Food Stamps!” There’s nothing that satisfies the envious heart more than watching the objects of its envy falter and fail. Whether it’s seeing a former heart-throb who’s gained 300 lbs, or watching a renowned scientist publicly disgraced, envy loves nothing more than to feast on the scattered entrails of a ruined reputation.
Greed – This one’s pretty straight-forward. If the picture is of a person Just Like You holding a fan of hundred dollar bills, and it’s telling you that you’ll never believe how this Mom from <bot here inserts the name of your hometown> scored all this hot swag, it’s appealing to your desire for easy money. Same deal with any “weird trick” that will get you a better job, or help you increase your salary. Hot Tip: if it’s in an article being read by tens of thousands of people on the internet, it’s not top-secret intel on the fast-track to success. Second Hot Tip: If you have to pay for the “secret” before they will divulge it, it’s a scam.
Wrath – I’ve written before about “outrage porn” and its effect on left-wing activism. <Put the link to my other article here> It is, however, also one of the most popular forms of click-bait targeted towards religious folks. Outrage porn feeds on our desire for moral vigilance. It suggests that, somehow, our zeal for Holy Mother Church will be nourished and fed if we’re made constantly aware of scandals and liturgical atrocities being committed Right Now! in the U.S. It invites us to feel shocked and angry about things that we can’t do anything about, and that are really not our business in the first place. “Look at this sinner and feel your blood boil!” it says. Occasionally, to maintain the illusion of Catholic charity, it adds “Uh…maybe pray about this situation as well. But first make sure that you’re shocked, stunned and tempted to throw Molotov cocktails at this unspeakable Servant of Azathoth!” (Double points if the Crawling Spawn of Cthulhu is a Bishop, Cardinal or, best of all, Pope Francis.)
Sloth – Well, really, why are you clicking on click-bait to begin with? A lot of the most seemingly innocent listicles are really nothing more than an invitation to completely waste your time with vapid fluff that will not add value to your life. So now you know some random guy on the internet’s list of Movies That Start Off Great – And End Like Shit! Do you feel enriched? No, of course not. Will you remember a single word of it by the end of the week? No. The thing about reading this stuff is that it’s not even restful. For one thing, you have to expend effort clicking on the “Next” button (because these articles always needlessly split their complete-lack-of-content into at least 10 parts). More importantly, there’s something stultifying about repeatedly feeding your brain disappointing non-information. Since these articles promise to be interesting, and then completely fail to provide enjoyment or satisfaction, they become oddly addictive. “Okay, so ‘Japan’s Ten Weirdest Hotels’ turned out to be bummer, but I’m sure that I’ll get something out of ‘The 15 Most Disappointing Click-Bait Strategies Ever!’ What’s that Hon? No, I can’t come down and change the baby. I’m busy reading.”
Gluttony – Food porn is food porn. We all know what it looks like, because it’s the reason that we buy weird grey burgers with wilted lettuce (that looked so good in the ad). As a general rule, if you’re not looking for a place to eat or a recipe to actually cook tonight, there’s probably not a good reason to check out that sumptuous picture of stewed flamingo tongues. And if you’re actually trying to control your eating, it probably won’t help to click on “New York’s Most Decadent Desserts (Schedule Your Arterial Bypass Surgery Before You Even LOOK At #8)”.
Picture credit: Pixabay