(The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.)
You know that annoying guy in the office who steps on all of your punch lines? Who deflates with a concise quip the shaggy dog stories you're trying to tell?
Well, that buttinski has taken his act to Twitter where, under the username SavedYouAClick, he's razoring the guts out of the often misleading and exploitative click-bait tweets posted by Huffington Post, Vice, Mashable, Cosmopolitan, Business Insider, TMZ, Drudge Report, and others designed to drive you to their stories.
Unlike the guy in your office, SavedYouAClick doesn't annoy, he delights. His interruptions on Twitter are pure public service. His method is simple: grab a publication's tweet that links to one of its stories - such as this one on Wednesday from BusinessWeek, "How China's government is erasing the memory of the Tiananmen Square massacre" - and then retweet it with an appropriate click-saving comment. How is China erasing the Tiananmen memory? "By pretending it never happened."
Other recent click-busters from the SavedYouAClick stream:
Adjust brightness, contrast, etc. RT @HuffingtonPost: Instagram introduces 10 new features that will take your photos to the next level
Meeting with Al Sharpton. RT @TMZ: What is NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, doing to prevent another Donald Sterling debacle?
Money. RT @HuffingtonPost: Married couples fight over THIS more than anything else
Star Wars @ELLEmagazine: Whoa...HUGE news for Lupita!
It’s addictive and bad for you. RT @ezraklein: The case for treating sugar like a drug:
Run by sole proprietor Jake Beckman, SavedYouAClick performs real-time press criticism by highlighting and ridiculing the mendacious ways publishers use social media.
There's no magic to the Beckman formula, he says in an interview. "I look for tweets that are misleading phrased or stated as a question," he says. Then, if he judges the article and the tweet to be part of a gaseous click-bait conspiracy, he retweets with his pithy summary. His duty, he says, is to save readers from wasting time.
This week, when CNET paired its tweet, "So iOS 8 appears to be jailbreakable but …," with a link to its coverage of Apple's product announcements, Beckman issued a terse, click-killing retweet to put the issue straight: "…it hasn't been jailbroken yet." When Business Insider's Twitter account attempted to entice with, "A former Navy SEAL explains how to escape a dangerous situation," Beckman distilled from the piece its essence: "Run away. Fast."
Beckman, 25, launched SavedYouAClick as a personal side project in the beginning of May, has tweeted from it about 300 times, and counts more than 68,000 (and climbing) followers. He previously worked at ABC News and Bloomberg TV before moving to RebelMouse, which produces a content management system - CMS - for websites, where he labors today. Unlike the mediajammers at HuffPoSpoilers and Upworthy Spoiler, who devote their debunking to just one site, Beckman polices about 100 publications' official Twitter feeds, a number that is growing. If I were half as conscientious as Beckman about not wasting your time, I would not have written this piece and instead pointed you to Lucia Moses' recent Digiday round-up of the click-bait killers. But I have a family to feed.
You could call SavedYouAClick anti-social-media, but Beckman avoids the cheap shot just to land a joke. He specializes in flat-affect humor to land his punches. And he directs his ire at tweets, not headlines, noting that not all headlines that contain a question mark are suspect. The top story about Bowe Bergdahl on Page One of Wednesday's New York Times - which asks, "Can G.I. Be Tied to 6 Lost Lives? Facts Are Murky" - is a fitting use of a query in a headline, Beckman says. His genuine target is the specious tweet to the half-baked article that makes you wish the Web had never been invented.
Beckman has yet to hear directly from the click-baiters, but some are confessing in public. The Huffington Post UK proved the Web's capacity to eat itself on Tuesday with this semi-literate tweet: "Fed up of clickbait headlines? Follow the Twitter account @SavedYouAClick." Although the HuffPoUK tweet is stated as a question, it links to a worthy six-sentence HuffPoUK article that confesses SavedYouAClick is wise to the click-bait artists, and includes numerous examples of the practice from Beckman's site (including ones from HuffPo).
"Shouty, flashy, potentially misleading journalism is nothing new," Beckman says, comparing what publishers do with their Twitter feeds to newsboys touting headlines on street corners in an earlier era. He's right. So don't be a chump, follow SavedYouAClick and spend those unused clicks on something more worthy of your time. The Web is only as stupid as you are.