Clickbait is a pejorative (disapproving) term for web content that is aimed at generating online advertising revenue, often at the expense of quality or accuracy, relying on sensationalist news headlines or eye-catching thumbnail pictures to attract people to click on headline links to encourage forwarding of the material over online social networks.

Origin of the term

The term itself comes from the way users interact with websites. Clicking ( originally via computer connected mouse, though now more often tapping on a screen) is a way to activate a link on a website which goes to a different webpage. The term ‘bait' is most often associated with fishing as a way to attract fish to a lure. 

How it works

 Clickbait headlines typically aim to exploit the "curiosity gap", providing just enough information to make readers curious, but not enough to satisfy their curiosity without clicking through to the linked content.

Typically clickbait relies on headlines/images that are of the form:

  • You won’t believe this simple trick to get x
  • These 5 tips are what experts say to get x.  Number 5 will astound/suprise you!

Other forms can be more subtle or sophisticated by creating a more complex headline that is slightly confusing or emotionally charged. 

“ Tragedy strikes at heart of x for family of  y trying to get by”  

This example uses emotional words without saying what the content or context of the story is. 

Other techniques rely on appealing to common human failings or struggles and attempt to provide a solution behind the headline. 

Clickbait can occur on a wide variety of sites and news sources online from scientific, political to cultural.

In some cases clickbait can be overt, covert or even satirical depending on the context. 

Clickbait  style has been around almost as long as the printed press

From a historical perspective, the techniques employed by clickbait authors can be considered derivative of yellow journalism, which presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines that include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism.

Adapted from Clickbait. (2017, June 8). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:04, June 12, 2017 , from


Here is a really interesting video explaining different types of clickbait from Veritasium that there are some scientific evidence that some kinds of clickbait can help improve science communication