There is little online I despise quite as much as clickbait. Even if you don’t know what clickbait is, you will have inevitably encountered it. It is defined by Google as ‘content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page’. Clickbait aims to lure you into reading content or clicking through to a particular site. At its worst, it will be outright lies encouraging you to click through to websites that will infect your computer with a virus. More often, it is an attempt to take you to a particular shop or to read some content that bears little relation to the interesting headline that caused you to look.
It used to be a tactic beloved of tabloid print media. They would grab your attention and pique your interest with a snappy headline but, as you then read the article, you soon find it either bears little relation to what drew you in. More often than not, it proved to be some banal, barely newsworthy report about not much at all.
In the digital age, once respectable broadsheet newspapers – such as the Independent – have now become so overrun by clickbait that they approximate something closer to a parody of a newspaper in a cartoon. Indeed, one cartoonist offered the below parody of a clickbait Old Testament. This was shared on social media with the altered headline, ‘if the Independent reported the Old Testament’.
Clickbait relies on the FOMO phenomenon and promises far more than it ever delivers. Clickbait inevitably makes us regret clicking the link. If we’re lucky, we’ll not lose anything more than a couple of minutes scanning through what proves to be rubbish. If we’re less fortunate, we could find ourselves with a computer virus or worse.
It is striking just how closely clickbait mirrors idolatry. For what more regularly promises what it cannot deliver than an idol? What more commonly takes up our time, money, interest and resources more than whatever idol happens to have our heart at any given moment? Like clickbait, every now and then, our idols will represent momentary infatuations and their cost to us – though there remains a cost – is minimal. Sadly, all too often, we give them our hearts and continue to feed them as they demand more and more from us until we are eventually so enthralled that we fear losing the very thing that continues to drain us of all that we have. Idolatry is an abusive relationship and there is no two ways about it.
Just as the internet is awash with clickbait, Calvin famously warned us that our hearts are idol factories. Just as every second link (or so it appears) is designed to draw you into damaging or pointless material, so every second thought (or so it appears) seems intent on drawing us away from Christ toward soul-damaging idols. Both promise much and deliver little. Both ask for something from you and then fail to reward your efforts.
The solution to the soul-crushing, resource-draining love of idols and the time-draining pointlessness of clickbait is to focus our thoughts and attention upon Christ. As we fill our minds with the things of Jesus we will find considerably less room for other rubbish that vies for our attention. As we are prone to find our contentment anywhere else, we must recentre ourselves on the person of Jesus. It is not wrong to enjoy other things, but it is important to make sure that they are not the focus of our affections and the things in which we find our contentment and joy. That place belongs to Christ alone.