The founder of Upworthy, a media site frequently criticized for sensationalist titles that entice the user to click on them, spoke out today in defense of his site, rejecting the idea that it uses clickbait. Founder Peter Koechley claims that the site uses these headlines to draw people in and raise awareness for societal issues. Because the Internet is full of distraction, he claims that as a media company it is important to use these headlines to attract attention and educate people enough to make change.
Online critics of Upworthy accuse it of “slacktivism”, or using the Internet and social media to advocate for change, without actually taking any action in the real world. I’d have to disagree with these critics. Upworthy’s site aims to educate users about democracy, justice, science, technology, diversity, and many other social issues. While I think its titles certainly fall under the category of clickbait and are a bit manipulative of Internet users, I do not see anything negative about raising awareness around social issues. If it takes an cliff-hanging question to grab the attention of a user, I’m okay with it as long as the subsequent link educates readers instead of speculating about Kylie Jenner’s recent plastic surgery.
This may not be the real world action that critics bring up, but raising awareness and educating people are the first steps in getting them to initiate real world change. While Upworthy has promised to “restore my faith in mankind” a few too many times, I think that this is the most productive form of clickbait.