Clickbait and Virality Are Creating a New Science of Internet Trends

Clickbait and viral content may be fascinating or annoying depending on your perspective as an e-consumer, but to internet researchers the phenomenon is the stuff of scientific wonder.

Clickbait is brilliant. Clickbait is annoying. Clickbait is the future. Clickbait must die.


Whatever your opinion on the ubiquity of BuzzFeed-esque headlines or the recent influx of made-to-go-viral content, you have to admit that there's something fascinating about clickbait. It's certainly caught the eyes of the folks over at MIT Technology Review, where a post went up this week detailing the fledgling science of virality. The question at the heart of this emerging study:

"What is the difference between stories that become viral and those that don’t?"

The article explores one possible answer: emotional response. Focus is placed on the work of two researchers — Marco Guerini at Trento Rise in Italy and Jacopo Staiano at Sorbonne Université in Paris — who are working to examine the psychology behind viral content, specifically which emotions ought content-creators appeal to in order to earn the most exposure:

"Psychologists have long categorized emotion using a three-dimensional scale known as the Valence-Arousal-Dominance model. The idea is that each emotion has a valence, whether positive or negative and a level of arousal, which is high for emotions such as anger and low for emotions like sadness. ... Guerini and Staiano say that posts generate more comments when they are associated with emotions of high arousal, such as happiness and anger, and with emotions where people feel less in control, such as fear and sadness.

By contrast, posts generate more social votes when associated with emotions people feel more in control of, such as inspiration."

Guerini and Staiano represent but a small portion of the greater scientific community developing methods for analyzing virality. Their research has practical applications with regard to internet marketing. It's also somewhat captivating to explore the inner machinations of emerging trends playing out right in front of our eyes.

Below, Big Think expert Scott Galloway explains the process through which viral content spreads:

Read more at MIT Technology Review.

Photo credit: View Apart / Shutterstock

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Why I wear my life on my skin

For Damien Echols, tattoos are part of his existential armor.

Top Video Splash
  • In prison Damien Echols was known by his number SK931, not his name, and had his hair sheared off. Stripped of his identity, the only thing he had left was his skin.
  • This is why he began tattooing things that are meaningful to him — to carry a "suit of armor" made up the images of the people and things that have significance to him, from his friends to talismans.
  • Echols believes that all places are imbued with divinity: "If you interact with New York City as if there's an intelligence behind... then it will behave towards you the same way.".

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

Think you’re bad at math? You may suffer from ‘math trauma’

Even some teachers suffer from anxiety about math.

Image credit: Getty Images
Mind & Brain

I teach people how to teach math, and I've been working in this field for 30 years. Across those decades, I've met many people who suffer from varying degrees of math trauma – a form of debilitating mental shutdown when it comes to doing mathematics.

Keep reading Show less