You’re being scammed.
The good news is, no, it’s not costing you money. The bad news is that, at the very least, it’s making you look gullible.
In the past few weeks, I’ve been pointed to no fewer than five clickbait sites supposedly posting news (i.e., spoilers) about Bones.
According to wiktionary.org, clickbait is web content “that is aimed at generating advertising revenue, especially at the expense of quality or accuracy.”
The short version: some websites post stuff that is utter crap, worded in a way to get people to come to their ad-supported site, which makes them money. And then those viewers spread the links around social media, so that more people go to the site, and they make even more money.
I won’t bore you with the details (and yes, I work in the tech industry) but there are all kinds of fees associated with having a website, and the bigger the site (i.e., the more people who go there) the more it costs. While site owners can (and do) pay for small sites themselves, bigger sites are paid for either by donations, subscription fees, or ads.
The great majority of the sites on the web now use the latter. Twitter, Facebook, CNN, Google, TV Guide…it’s an endless list. Every time you visit a site with advertisements around the perimeter, the companies behind those ads are paying for your visit
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the ad-supported model. Sites have to be paid for somehow, and ads are often the least intrusive way of doing so.
But some people figure it’s an easy way to make money off the gullible: post something, true or not, that will cause lots of people to come to a website, make more money from the ads than it costs to run the site, and then keep the difference. Boom! Easy money! Plus, unlike legitimate sites, they don’t have to hire writers or pay for content. They can make up stuff, post it, and hope it goes viral.
What I’ve seen recently are sites taking known spoilers about Bones, twisting them into something unrecognizable, and then presenting the results as a legitimate story. Not one of them purports to be a TV site, by the way. One had only random letters as its URL, one was supposedly a ‘youth health site,’ and the most recent claims to be a finance site.
That one – and no, I’m not linking to any of them – starts with the assertion (presented as a fact) that with Booth missing, the show’s focus will shift to Angela and Hodgins. And not only are some fans buying that, but they’re spreading the rumor that David Boreanaz isn’t going to be a regular on the show anymore.
It’s a lie. One hundred percent. Not one credible spoiler has even hinted at any of that.
A few weeks ago, several of these sites took speculation on the title of the first episode and twisted it into a post claiming that Booth and Brennan’s relationship would be in trouble.
Again, not one credible spoiler has suggested that.
People think websites won’t make up stuff because the network will sue them, but that’s bogus. If a site posts something false about a show, and it picks up enough momentum that the studio thinks it could conceivably cause financial harm, they might send a cease and desist letter; if things get bad enough that they can prove the show was harmed, then, yeah, they might sue, but as a rule? No. Proving any of that is too difficult, for one thing. And generally, networks regard any discussion about a show, right or wrong, truth or lies, to be a good thing.
Legitimate sites don’t lie not because they’re afraid of being sued, but because their greatest asset is their credibility. They need for people to come back to read their next post because the last one proved trustworthy.
The clickbait sites? They don’t care. They’re not worried that weeks from now you’ll say, ‘hey, you were totally wrong about that spoiler, so I’m not going to come to your site again.’ For starters, you probably won’t remember what the site was, and second? They’ve already made their money off you. You came, you saw the ads, you freaked, you passed the link around on social media. Win!
But how do you know whether an article/post/spoiler is credible? After all, the sites look like real websites.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
First, is it a known TV or news site? (TVLine, GiveMeMyRemote, BuddyTV, ScreenFad, ScreenSpy,TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly, Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Deadline, The New York Times?) That’s not an exclusive list, and I’m fairly clueless about sites in other countries, but if it’s a site that you’ve never heard of before, or seen other people discussing, be wary of it.
Second, was a link to the content tweeted out by someone associated with the show? Or posted on the show’s official Facebook page? This is a good way to identify less well-known sites that might post legitimate content. (If you’re not on Twitter, you can also check the fan sites. At Bonesology, we post most of the articles that are tweeted out by people associated with the show. But we don’t post links to clickbait sites.)
Third, read the content carefully. Every sentence. Notice whether it’s attributed to someone. If there’s a link to another site where the information came from, follow it to see if it’s legitimate. Ask yourself whether the source it’s attributed to is credible.
That most recent clickbait site? Its ‘source’ – using that term loosely – was a link to another clickbait site. There wasn’t one direct quote in the entire article, just a lot of speculation worded as fact.
Similarly, a few weeks ago another of the sites said it was quoting Michael Peterson (one of Bones’ EPs) but actually linked back to a tweet by Emily Silver. While that kind of thing could be an honest mistake, in this instance, it was an effort to look more legitimate than they were. Think of it this way: if they’re not worried about getting a detail like that right, what makes you think they care about getting anything else right?
Another warning flag: phrases like, ‘as was previously revealed’ or ‘as was announced’ – without saying where it was revealed. Nearly always, these kinds of things seem legitimate because they’re a twist on something that has been posted on credible sites. But with no link to check back to see what was actually said, you’re left to assume that the twist is accurate.
For example, GiveMeMyRemote posted about the FBI investigation into ‘the disappearance of FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth,’ and TV Guide later referenced it in their Fall Preview, but neither of them suggested that Booth won’t be in the episode; even less that Boreanaz will become only a recurring character. (And for that matter, the rest of the TV Guide bit makes it pretty clear that the show will still be about Booth and Brennan.)
And yet clickbait sites are twisting the ‘Booth goes missing’ spoiler to mean all kinds of things, and fans are buying it. Since the ‘goes missing’ part is legit, the ‘Angela and Hodgins take over’ part must be as well, right?
Here’s why it matters: I can imagine people saying, “So? If fans read and react to something they see, where’s the harm? We’re bored. This hiatus has gone on forever. It gives us something to talk about.”
And the answer is…as long as people keep their cool, there IS nothing wrong with it. Have at it. (Me, I enjoy speculation as much as the next person, and I’ve had a few good belly laughs at some of these sites.)
But recently, some fans have been upset enough over what’s being posted at these sites to threaten the show’s writers. And that’s not only uncool, it makes you look like an idiot. Ditto spreading rumors.
My advice? Don’t believe everything you see online. But if you must do so, don’t lash out at others over it.