The Rise Of Clickbait Spoilers: Bloggers Expose What’s Behind Upworthy’s Histrionic Headlines

on December 11 2013 6:51 PM

UPlogo The 2-year-old Upworthy has generated phenomenal social traffic with its emotionally driven headlines, but not everyone thinks they’re worth the click.  Cloud Tiger Media

In less than two years, Upworthy has gone from a spark in Eli Pariser's and Peter Koechley’s eyes to the third-most-shared publisher on the Internet. The website, owned by the privately held Cloud Tiger Media Inc. in New York City, has made its stated mission to aggregate the most sharable content it can find, and by any measure it’s succeeded.

As the Washington Post’s Wonkblog pointed out on Tuesday, Upworthy posts attract an average of 43,446 Facebook likes. By comparison, posts on BuzzFeed, another social-sharing phenom, generate an average of 3,151 likes. It’s a huge difference and a testament to Upworthy’s knack for figuring out what goes viral on social media.  

By now, anyone who’s encountered the site knows its secret formula has much to do with its superlative-laced headlines, which promise stories that will “blow your mind,” “change your life,” make you feel “mesmerized,” “electrified” or otherwise “wondtacular.” The overt positivity builds on BuzzFeed’s famous “no haters” policy, but unlike a typical BuzzFeed listicle, Upworthy headlines often reveal few details about what the articles in question contain. Sure, you can learn that it’s “way scarier than a ghost or an alien,” but if you want to find out more, you have to click.

Or do you? With the rise of social-sharing sites like Upworthy, it’s perhaps not surprising that there are increasing numbers of bloggers and Twitter users looking to nip clickbait in the bud. Welcome to the clickbait spoiler, where everything you want to know is right there where you need it. No waiting, no videos, and best of all, no clicking.

Matt Stempeck, a Web designer and software developer, is apparently the person behind @UpworthySpoiler, a relatively new Twitter account that has already attracted about 1,600 followers. Stempeck reposts Upworthy headlines and links, along with short explanations. For instance, Stempeck explains that a headline boasting “the only anti-bullying video that could probably win an Oscar” actually links to a video that imagines if “offices had schoolyard bullies.”

In his Twitter profile, Stempeck says he reposts the links “with love,” but not every Upworthy spoiler shares his motivation. The bloggers at HappyPlace, from the creators of Someecards, have been posting a series of Upworthy spoilers in which they include screenshots of the “misleading headlines” along with full explanations and direct links to the videos they aggregate. The bloggers sardonically call Upworthy “the worst site on the Internet,” and they apparently have zero interest in linking back to the site and giving it more traffic (not that it needs it). “Their headlines are the purest, crack-cocaine of clickbait,” the bloggers write. “And when you do click, the content they’ve dredged up from YouTube never, ever pays off.”

For instance, that thing that’s scarier than a ghost and an alien? It’s an eight-minute video featuring a guy talking about nuclear bombs -- not exactly worth the payoff, the bloggers say. Another Upworthy headline promises, “This incredible time-lapse shows us how dignity and respect can change a man.” The bloggers’ take? “It doesn't show how dignity and respect can change a man at all. It shows how a fancy haircut and an expensive suit can make someone look nice.”

Internet spoilers are nothing new, of course, but clickbait spoilers seem to be gaining steam in a world where Web-dwellers have fewer and fewer nanoseconds to devote to any particular article. Earlier this year, one Twitter user gained notoriety after launching @HuffPoSpoilers, which “gives in to Huffington Post clickbait so you don’t have to.” The account has more than 32,000 followers at present, and the person (or people) behind it hasn’t seemed to tire of giving away Arianna’s secrets. The account still spits out several posts a day.  

At any rate, it’s more than BuzzFeed Spoilers can say. That short-lived Twitter account currently has zero followers and hasn’t posted a spoiler since May. Wait until you find out why. It will blow your -- oh, just click here.

Got a news tip? Email me. Follow me on Twitter @christopherzara.

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