Anyone who has ever scrolled through a Facebook newsfeed knows what “clickbait” is—the internet is awash in headlines promising a photo cuter than all other cute photos, an outrage-inducing news item more outrageous than all other news items, a piece of celebrity gossip juicier than all the previous undeniably juicy gossip bits. The key is that these headlines always withhold that critical piece of information: who the best guitarist in the world is, what the bad Republican man actually said, which nutritional supplement will cause spiders to grow in your stomach and eat you from the inside out.
Jake Beckman has achieved a modest amount of internet fame by ruining these headlines and saving people clicks in the process with his aptly named Twitter account @SavedYouAClick. In often hilarious fashion Beckman retweets links to stories from websites and publications like the New York Times, Salon, the Atlantic, Slate, the Huffington Post, Forbes, Upworthy, and Buzzfeed, among others, with a pithy summary of the article’s interesting bits. His tweets save everyone time by boiling down stories into single words (“The World Cup is days away but is Brazil Ready?” “Nope”), but they also should shame people who write misleading or insulting headlines and tweets in the service of drawing traffic to uninteresting stories. @SavedYouAClick has apparently struck a chord, amassing 90,000 followers in just over 400 tweets, and last week, Beckman even got the opportunity to save his followers a click to a story about himself. How charitable of him:
VICE: You told Jack Shafer of Reuters that you don’t have a problem with headlines that ask questions, which leaves only teasing, "curiousity gap"–exploiting tweets in your crosshairs. But you don’t appear to be going after some of the worst clickbait offenders—sites like Upworthy and the God-awful Facebook mom feed, Elite Daily. Are those sites just too easy to target?
Jake Beckman: It’s not that headlines with questions are always OK—sometimes they’re legitimate, and sometimes they’re not. What I’m targeting, though, are the tweets: how these articles are positioned on social media in an attempt to score easy traffic. I definitely include Upworthy, and just recently followed Elite Daily—I’m always looking for more publishers to follow. Usually it’s just a matter of timing—when I’m looking for tweets and how recently the offending tweets were published.
Running a Twitter feed doesn’t pay, as much as we all wish that was the case. What do you do for a living?
I run @SavedYouAClick as a personal side project. I work for RebelMouse, a publishing platform with a focus on social content. I used to work in breaking news and editorial at ABC News and Bloomberg TV, so I'm very familiar with how newsrooms work.
I like to imagine you starting @SavedYouAClick in a fit of drunken rage after reading a dumb Huffington Post story. Is that how it went down, or have you been planning this all along?
I started using #SavedYouAClick on some early tweets from my personal account whenever I'd see tweets that were particularly egregious. It was Alex Mizrahi, who runs @HuffPoSpoilers, who suggested in a Twitter thread that I register the account. So I did and started tweeting with a few hundred followers. It wasn't until last weekend that the growth in followers shot through the roof. I'm glad that it's resonating with so many people.
Some have argued that all journalism is essentially clickbait in one form or another. What’s your endgame here? Do you want a return to straight-laced headlines like “Man Starts Twitter Account to Fuck with Large Publications”?
I'd love to see publishers think about the experience of their readers first. I think there's an enormous opportunity for publishers to provide readers with informative updates that include links so you can click through to read more. Instead, we see publishers withholding more and more information on social. That's not right.
What’s the worst, most clickbait-y tweet you can think of?
There are so many different types of clickbait that I see that it's tough to say. I will say that my least favorite thing to see is a tweet phrased as a question, and when I click the question is answered in the actual headline. Not even the first paragraph. It's just so clear that publishers are trying to tease their stories on social, instead of using Twitter to inform.
What’s your method for finding and processing these links?
I do everything manually. I follow hundreds of publishers' accounts between my personal timeline and @SavedYouAClick. I check Twitter every so often until I find one that works for @SavedYouAClick. And yes, I actually click on all of the links.
I can only see so many tweets by myself, but the response from Twitter has been amazing. It's been really nice to see people flagging stories by mentioning the account. A lot of people ask me to read specific articles for them, which I'll only do if they seem interesting or relevant.
Are you a masochist?
I like to think that I'm more of an altruist.
Clickbait seems like a quick and dirty way to get web traffic. With the rising popularity of @SavedYouAClick, outlets are beginning to introduce your account to their readers, but only a few have actually reached out to you. Why is this? Is everyone just really fucking lazy, or do they know people will read about the account and not necessarily care who the person behind it is?
I think it's because it's incredibly easy to embed a string of tweets in an article and call that journalism. It's much easier than actually asking me some questions.
With all this attention, how drunk are you with power right now?
I'm just excited that this idea is resonating with so many people, and it's been really cool to see this idea catch on around the world. It's just my way of trying to help the internet be less terrible.
Follow Justin Glawe on Twitter.