Treat Every Day Like April Fools Day

Today is April Fools Day. I have affectionately referred to this day as “Nerd Christmas” for years. People and corporations alike come together on this one day to make us smile in an extremely dorky wink-and-a-nod display.

It used to be a delightful day on the internet. But all of the cutesy fake products and pretend web services have faded away to people fibbing about pregnancy or getting married and passing around fake news and lies. And really, this is the kind of stuff people do online (mostly on Facebook) everyday. It’s just that on April Fools were a little more “on the swivel” than usual, ready with a critical eye.

So on this April Fools I want to make a plea to you.

Treat every day like it’s April Fools.

Use critical thinking skills anytime you see a story or post that just doesn’t smell right. Free iPad? Probably a scam. $50 free at Target? Likely not. Like a photo of someone’s lotto numbers and you’ll get a cut if they win? Can’t imagine a more unlikely scenario.

I will say, I am fully aware that makes me THAT GUY on Facebook. Often I’ve found myself busting into someone’s Facebook thread and saying, “Sorry to interrupt, I just wanted you to know this isn’t true.” And then generally I link to Snopes.

Snopes is hands down my favorite truth telling website. http://www.snopes.com/

It takes news, myths, and rumors and lets you know if it’s true, false, or mixture of the two. It is my go to for when I want to rain on someone’s parade. Which… I don’t want to be THAT GUY. But the amount of misinformation roaming around on the internet is staggering. And people just look at the title of a story and move on. No considering of the source, no checking up on the facts. And it isn’t just limited to clickbait-y websites with a ton of ads. People have a hard time because this is everywhere.

I know it’s work. No one wants to spend their time googling. But I would argue that it is now more important than ever to make an effort to verify information. Especially as we move deeper into this political season. Fake news looks like real news. Hell, sometimes it is reported by real news. How often have you seen stories from The Onion paraded around like they’re real?

Snopes. Politifact. FactCheck. Treat everyday like it’s April Fools Day.

(But seriously, congrats to my friend Stephanie who actually got married today. No kidding around!)

Clickbait is terrible.

I considered writing this post and naming it, “When I see the way article titles are written now, you’ll never BELIEVE my reaction!!!” (Which is annoyed.) But I didn’t want to be a part of the problem. You see, an emerging trend in the realm of digital media/journalism is to have a headline that doesn’t actually reveal what an article is about. You’ve surely seen these online. Let me give you an example I’ve made up:

Newspaper Headline: Food Drive Collects Record 500 Pounds of Goods

Clickbait Headline: When they asked for help, the response had me IN TEARS!!!

The newspaper headline lays out exactly what you’re getting into. The clickbait headline doesn’t tell you the who/what/where/when for a very specific reason: they want you to go to their website. They want to lure you in or trick you into going to their website, so they can show you ads and track your information and get you to like their Facebook page, etc. etc. That’s why it’s called ‘clickbait’. It’s a lazy, deceptive, and gross practice. You’re being misled.

I understand that we’re in a time where people are giving away content basically for free and that ads are paying for the hardware and people that brought me the video of a puppy and baby who are ~best friends~. But often the website bringing you that information via a clickbait headline didn’t make it. They’re just dropping in someone else’s video or a link to a news story where someone else did the legwork. They just slapped it up on their site and passed it around Facebook with their crummy headline. I just think that there’s got to be a better way to go about this. Like producing quality content that will drive people to your site. Partnerships. Anything else. Just make it worth my while to click by telling me what I’m clicking on!

There’s one I just saw on Facebook that had a headline like, “Her dog died due to a TRAGIC mistake. The killer could be at home!” Awesome. Let’s scare people into going to your website. By the way, the dog ate sugar free gum with Xylitol in it, so be careful and keep an eye out for that. It’s harmful to dogs. I just want you to know because it’s important and useful information, no clickbait needed.

There’s a twitter account I love called @savedyouaclick that’s directly fighting against this by doing the same thing I just did and spoiling the headline.

You’re an angel, @savedyouaclick.

I wish I had a more proactive ending to this post, like a suggestion of how to better monetize your website so you don’t have to be a skeezy guy with clickbait headlines. But the reality is that it’s a much bigger problem than one person can fix. All I can do is appeal to the people writing these things and say, “Please don’t be that guy.”