When I attempted to start discussion about Facebook’s troubling Real Names Policy, I called my piece “Mark Zuckerberg Hates Ex-Muslims”. I could have called it “Mark Zuckerberg Doesn’t Care About Ex-Muslims” but that’s longer and less provocative. People are far less likely to click on longer and less-provocative titles.
Furthermore, I don’t think my word choice was a misrepresentation. Utterly disregarding the concerns of a group, pompously declaring anyone who can’t use their legal names on Facebook to be “lacking integrity”, and deleting their profiles is hateful, in my view. However, thanks to my choice in title, the discussion was derailed into “but the title is misleading!” debates. In the hopes of a more germane conversation, I changed the title.
I fear that, in appeasing people those who took more issue at my implying a powerful person might be hateful than at the hateful policy he is implementing, I might lessen my impact. Clickbait only exists because it works.
Righteous indignation at “misleading” titles aside, titles that aren’t long and nuanced tend to lead to more people clicking on (and, presumably, reading) a piece. I try to avoid saying anything I can’t defend or that is misleading in terms of my views in a title, but when it’s between “Mark Zuckerberg Hates Ex-Muslims” and “Mark Zuckerberg Doesn’t Care About Ex-Muslims”, the former wins. It invites people to click, and perhaps to read, with its provocation.
We like to claim that we enjoy nuance and abhor “clickbait” and leading headlines, but my site stats say the opposite.
What do you see in my top ten? Names of famous atheists — check. Inflammatory words — check. At least somewhat oversimplified and/or overgeneralized versions of my arguments — check.
Before I started engaging in such titling, I’d watch provocatively-titled pieces mostly comprised of pull-quotes, videos, sarcasm, and admonishments go viral, while my more carefully-written and agonizingly thought-out pieces languished in obscurity.
I want clicks not because I get paid all the mystical internet money for them, but because I want people to read what I write. When I pour a minimum of 2-3 hours into writing and revision every day, is it so bad that I hope that people will care? It’s why I don’t write these things in my private journal. It’s why I bother to link things and explain myself. It’s why I try to be consistent with a posting schedule despite having several other schedules clamoring for my attention.
My estimate of 2-3 hours doesn’t take into account all the conversations I have, reading I do, and contemplation in which I engage to actively feed my writing, mind you.
I do try to not go too far with it, and am open to criticism regarding ones where I may have done so. However, opposing the practice of provocative titling is unfair to those of us who do the labor whose fruits you enjoy (or love to hate, whatever the case might be) nearly entirely for free.
Main image via Mimi & Eunice