Burriss: Bait and switch

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In the advertising world it’s called “bait and switch,” and it’s illegal. Bait-and-switch happens when a store advertises a particular item for sale, but when you try to make a purchase you’re told the item is no longer available, but there is a similar item you can buy, for, of course, more money.

In the Internet world this kind of thing is called “clickbait,” and it happens when a news or other headline tell you one thing, but then never delivers on the promise. It’s not really a scam, because no one is really hurt. But it is mightily annoying.

For example, a couple of weeks ago several news sites ran headlines saying a physicist has discovered a way to do interstellar travel. You know, travel to the stars. But all the stories really talked about were a small solar sail project designed to launch in 2015.

If you missed that non-story, maybe you read headlines about how the three deadliest drugs in America are perfectly legal. The story goes on to talk about tobacco, alcohol and prescription painkillers. Or maybe you saw a link to a video that was sure to amaze or stun, but turned out to be nothing but hype.

The idea here is to generate what is called “click-through,” to get you to more advertisements, so the web site can charge more money. The story, by the way, is incidental…it is simply a vehicle to get more eyes on the ads. So the sponsor has no real vested interest in accuracy or quality.

Headlines used to summarize what the following story was all about. And they were transparent. You knew exactly what was going to come next. But with clickbait, you’re never sure what is going to be next, or where you’ll end up. And that is really annoying.

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Larry Burriss
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