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From magazines at the grocery store checkout to articles online, we’re constantly captivated by misleading headlines. As Sarah is surfing the internet, she comes across an article that catches her eye. You’ll Never Believe What He Did! Sarah’s hooked. She clicks on the article and starts reading, only to find out that the article is clickbait. We’ve all been fooled by misleading articles and clickbait headlines before. In this article, we’ll talk about what exactly clickbait is and how you can avoid clicking on misleading pages.

Woman looking at clickbait headlines

What is clickbait?

Whether we realize it or not, most of us see clickbait headlines every time we browse the internet. But before we talk about how you can avoid clickbait, let’s learn what exactly clickbait is.

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of clickbait is “something designed to make readers want to click on a hyperlink, especially when the link leads to content of dubious value or interest.” Webmasters use clickbait to drive traffic to their website in order to earn money through advertisements, clicks, and conversions. They use false promises and emotional language to convince you to click. Most of the time, the information is dramatic and overly exaggerated—and sometimes even false.

Woman holding a laptop

How to identify clickbait headlines

You may have clicked on a link only to find out, too late, that it was clickbait. By learning how to identify clickbait headlines, you can avoid falling for this trick. Stay away from attention-grabbing headlines with a sense of urgency.

If you’re unsure if a headline is clickbait, remember that clickbait is:

  • Inaccurate
  • Misleading
  • Vague
  • Exaggerating
  • Emotional
  • Too good (or too strange) to be true

You can also avoid clickbait by learning how to verify your sources. Only click on links from appropriate sources, such as well-known websites and verified pages.

Is clickbait harmful?

You might be wondering if clickbait headlines are even a big deal. After all, it seems like everyone runs into them constantly. However, misleading headlines can lead to fearmongering and the spread of false information. Some people base their information off headlines alone without diving further into the article. In this case, they’re relying on misleading or downright false content.

For example, after Sarah clicks on the headline that caught her attention and reads the article, she might pass that on to her friends. Her friends then pass that misleading information on to others, like a game of telephone. This is why internet privacy is so important.

Woman looking at clickbait headlines

How can you avoid clickbait headlines?

Although it’s nearly impossible to say goodbye to clickbait forever, there are ways that you can avoid clicking on it. Check to see who posted the content and if they’re a reliable source by hovering over the image and reading the link at the bottom of your browser to find the website. You can even search their online presence and see what they’ve posted in the past. Is the headline trying to lure you in? Does the content seem too good to be true? If so, it’s probably clickbait. Remember the characteristics of clickbait and avoid headlines that fit the criteria.

Internet safety tips

The internet can be a wonderful place, full of helpful information, entertainment, and even new friendships and connections. To fully enjoy the wonders of the online world, it’s important to follow internet safety tips and avoid internet scams. Learn more about how to stay safe and avoid scams on dating apps, such as catfishing scams.

For more on internet safety, follow the CenturyLink Discover blog.

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Emily Richey is the Content Manager for the CenturyLink and Quantum Fiber blogs. A recent graduate of Pace University NYC, she's an avid reader and writer. She spends most of her free time in bookstores and cafes, seeking the perfect cup of coffee.