The phenomenon of “ragebaiting” has become increasingly widespread throughout mainstream media. A cousin of clickbait, ragebaiting is the trend of publishing misleading headlines and articles, in order to provoke controversy and increase traffic and engagement. It is purely profit-driven, and often plays up to the 5-second culture that social media has perpetuated – that is, the culture of taking in snippets of information as quickly as possible, regardless of how accurate this is.
Brace yourself, reader, this is a long one…
A prime example of “ragebaiting” at the moment is the so-called gender-neutral Father Christmas debate, supposedly perpetuated by the LGBT and feminist communities. Multiple articles, spread by mainstream media such as the BBC, The Sun and Fox News, to name a few, are exploring this issue. Or, rather, pseudo-issue. As an avid member and follower of feminist and LGBT circles, I can assure you that no-one in the community is actually calling for a gender-neutral Santa Claus. These communities are a bit busy fighting against domestic violence, rape culture and hate crimes to worry about the gender identity of a fictional character (who is based on a Saint from the 3rd century, who likely identified as male anyway).
But by writing inflammatory headlines such as “People say Santa should now be female or gender neutral”, mainstream media is perpetuating this stereotype of “political correctness gone wrong” and “millennial snowflakes”, which is harmful to younger generations and activist groups, demeaning their fight for actual, meaningful changes. Honestly, it’s just divisive, and pits groups of people against each other, at a time when we should be uniting. In the face of irreparable climate change, the rise of far-right politics and Brexit, we, The People, should be looking to unite, and hold our politicians to account. Instead, we’re allowing ourselves to be distracted by, yes I’ll say it, Fake News.
Another example is that of Gina Atinuke Knight, whose human interest piece of self-love and discovery has been manipulated with a divisive headline, effectively screaming out that she hates her white adoptive parents. Anyone who has seen the story on social media will be familiar with this line, and the comments underneath are incensed by the idea that a black woman is anything but grateful to the white family who took her in. But if you read the article, as published by the BBC, it promotes a journey of acceptance and love, in the face of one’s own Otherness. And the headline here promotes the same!
So, the real question seems to be: why are media publications perpetuating harmful stereotypes with ragebaiting clickbait headlines on social media, whilst leaving their actual websites free from this? Well, we all know that clickbait sells – the more people that click-through onto your web page, the more revenue you receive from ads etc. “But surely,” you cry out, “the BBC are exempt from this! That’s why we pay the licence fee!”. Well, reader, the BBC still has a website, and it has to justify that spending somehow, ergo, the number of clicks = the validity of the spending. This gives way to clickbait articles and thus gender-neutral Santa debates begin.
But whatever happened to critical thinking? Screw that, whatever happened to actually reading a full article? Judging by the comments underneath all of these headlines no one has clicked through to the site, but media continue to give us clickbait, to give us something to complain about, something else to focus on.
I, for one, am not here for it. We need to look beyond the media circus, and hold our politicians to account. Hold their policies and decisions to account. We need to take a stand against things beyond what the BBC tell us to. By following the outrage, we’re putting our heads in the sand and forgetting about the issues that really matter – healthcare, education, foreign policy. And while we may not all see eye to eye on these points, we need to stand together and unite and tell the media and our government that this, frankly, isn’t good enough.
End the ragebaiting. End the outrage. It’s inflammatory. It’s divisive. It’s a distraction.