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She Got a Job Writing Clickbait — You Won’t Believe What Happened Next!

Confession: I used to work for a clickbait website.

I was not paid this well.

Now, I’m not going to name them here, because I’m not writing this to be petty, but I do need to explain their business model a little. If you figure out what company it is based on that, so be it.

This is the gist of the site I worked for: there were two sides, commerce and media. On the commerce side, they sell your basic overpriced mall-goth clothes, pinup stuff, gross/sexist/unfunny t-shirts, etc. On the media side, they write ridiculous clickbait articles that are split into 15-page slideshows, so that you have to click through that many times, driving up traffic and therefore ad dollars. They also have several Facebook pages to spread and support both sides of the business.

In addition to a Facebook page boasting the actual name of the company and blog, they also buy up smaller “lifestyle” pages dedicated to various subcultures — pinup, rockabilly, beauty, parenting, country — and convert them into shills for their clickbait content and products. There’s also an Instagram presence, but Facebook is the big money-maker.

On each of their pages (there were at least a dozen when I worked there), they post 24 hours a day. At the top of each hour (:15) there is either content from the blog or a meme. At the bottom (:45), there’s a product from the commerce site. Each social media person ran three or four pages at once, so that’s roughly 140-190 pieces of content to produce per day. The only reprieves to that were that 1) there was a separate person dedicated to writing and scheduling all the product posts, though social people still had to pick all the products, and 2) there was some reposting allowed. But even still, I almost never got out of the office at our official closing time of 5pm.

In addition to this, we were charged with coming up with story pitches for the bloggers to write. We had editorial meetings two or three times per week, where we were expected to have 10-15 ideas. The ideas that were approved were always the most appalling. Controversy was encouraged. If the content made someone look ridiculous, or was sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, etc, in nature, it was almost always approved. We wanted people to be angry, because that made them comment and click. Hence: clickbait. When you see articles that are blown out of proportion, insulting, or flat-out wrong, know that it’s on purpose. That piece (especially the headline, which always mattered more than the content) was written specifically that way to lock in your eyeballs, your words, and therefore, money from your pageviews.

Image theft was not only allowed, but actively encouraged. They called it using “found” images, which basically meant we would use Google Image search and pay no attention to copyright. I’ve worked as a photographer; I hated doing this. I tried really hard not to. I was supposed to use pin-up and rockabilly images for the backgrounds of most of the memes I made. There is a lot of pin-up photography out there, and we were supposed to use it. To get around that, I tried to more heavily rely on stock images and vintage art instead of the more contemporary photos. Unfortunately, there’s only so much of either of those out there that would be considered relevant to my page’s “lifestyle” and my hands were tied, so I did occasionally use photos. I always felt really awful about it, and when the page would inevitably get messages from either the models or the photographers, I never knew what to tell them. I agreed, but I also wanted to keep my job. But when I’d bring this up to my bosses, they’d shrug it off and say to throw a photo credit on the post to shut them up.

This was one of the many things that led to my decision to quit. As someone with more than a passing interest in photography, I could not in good conscience steal others’ work, but I couldn’t avoid doing it with the way the company was run. Not only were social media people encouraged to commit acts of copyright theft, but the “articles” that were made into slideshows used stolen images on each page. In fact, the reason I’m writing this post is because earlier this week, a favorite fat acceptance blogger posted to her own Facebook page about her work being stolen by this site for a really offensive article.

They deliberately hire young, inexperienced people (at 32, I was the oldest non-owner there), then they pay them well below what they’re worth. They also demand more and more work out of them without additional compensation, and treat them poorly. If you are even a minute late, you get yelled at. If you don’t get enough pitches approved, you get yelled at. In fact, you basically get yelled at for everything. The company is owned by a man who, based on his behavior in the office, is a textbook narcissist. The second in command isn’t much better. They would tell you to do something a certain way, then the next day you could come in and they’d deny ever saying that. They would gaslight you into thinking you were wrong. There were regular yelling arguments either between them, between the owner and someone he was on the phone with, or even between one of them and an employee. There were no qualms about firing people in front of the entire office, even for minor infractions. I overheard one of the writers calling it a “content sweatshop” and, while I don’t want to make light of the harsh physical conditions of sweatshops, the mood of the place leant itself to that comparison.

The bottom line is, if you see a headline that seems like clickbait, it probably is. Don’t click it. Also, don’t like the post or leave a comment — even if you want to let them know it’s offensive. They make money whether your clicks and comments are positive or negative. The best way to combat them is to ignore them. They need attention to live, like Tinkerbell or most pop stars. If they steal an image from you, email them. Comments will be hidden, deleted, or at the very least, ignored. Report them to Facebook for spam and/or intellectual property theft. Get a lawyer involved if you have to. But don’t give them revenue; that’s the only thing they care about.

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