You won’t believe what’s in this paper! The pragmatics of clickbait

Scott, Kate (2019) You won’t believe what’s in this paper! The pragmatics of clickbait. In: Approaches to Digital Discourse Analysis - ADDA 2; 23 - 25 May 2019, Turku, Finland. (Unpublished)


With more people and companies using the internet every day and with the number of ways in which users can create and consume content also growing year-on-year, the battle for the attention of consumers intensifies. So-called ‘click bait’ is online content that is designed to entice a reader to click on a link, and it generally exploits what is known as the ‘curiosity gap’. The clickbait headlines provide the reader with just enough information to pique their interest and prompt them to click on the link to read more. Examples of typical clickbait headlines are given in (1) to (3). (1) 12 mind-blowing ways to eat polenta. (2) 17 Gifts Only Grammar Nerds Will Appreciate. (3) How Well Do You Know The Ninja Turtles? Drawing on a corpus of click-bait headlines (Chakraborty 2016) and using ideas from the relevance-theoretic pragmatic framework (Sperber & Wilson, 1986/95), this paper examines some of the techniques used in clickbait headlines. According to relevance theory, we pay attention to inputs that are most likely to provide us with cognitive effects – that is, we pay attention to inputs that are likely to cause us to update our assumptions about the world. Clickbait headlines encourage a reader to click on the link with a promise of rich cognitive effects. Furthermore, they use a range of linguistic and pragmatic techniques to convince the reader that the cognitive effects on offer will be more rewarding than whatever else he may be attending to at that time. In short, clickbait headlines promise relevance. References Abhijnan Chakraborty, Bhargavi Paranjape, Sourya Kakarla, and Niloy Ganguly. "Stop Clickbait: Detecting and Preventing Clickbaits in Online News Media”. In Proceedings of the 2016 IEEE/ACM International Conference on Advances in Social Networks Analysis and Mining (ASONAM), San Fransisco, US, August 2016. Sperber, D., & Wilson, D. (1986/95). Relevance: Communciation and Cognition (Second edition (with postface) ed.). Oxford: Blackwell.

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