Clickbait and sensationalism are mostly present on “unlicensed” portals or "portaloids" contaminating the public online space in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with widespread "showbusinessation" of politics.
By: Vuk Vučetić (mentor), Nejra Hasečić, Ema Senkić, Džan Helać
Bombastic headlines and contents that typically do not fully correspond are the features of clickbait articles. The headline serves merely as bait for a larger number of clicks; therefore, “clickbait” is essentially misinformative by nature.
In order to show whether the clickbait wave reached the local online media scene in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), and to what extent, we carried out a comparative analysis of the presence of clickbait headlines on the most unprofessional and most read online portals in BiH, which were “red flagged” in the research by the “Raskrinkavanje.ba” portal (portals that are the greatest generators of unprofessional contents: “ekspresno.ba”; “narodni.info”; “saznajemo.net”).
The analysis was carried out after the training for journalists and journalism students “Medijska pismenost i verifikacija informacija - od klika do ispravke” (Media Literacy and Verification of Information – From Click to Correction), held on 23rd April 2019 within a project implemented by Mediacentar Sarajevo for SEENPM and TOL.
We compared the results of the analysis with the number of clickbait contents on the most widely read portals in the country, as rated by alexa.com (Klix, Avaz, Expresstabloid). In addition to the presence of clickbait, we were also interested in finding out which areas or rubrics are the most severely affected by this form of disinformation.
The monitoring took place between 26th April and 10th May 2019 and covered all rubrics and texts that were published in the period on the listed portals, and the results serve as an indicator of the issue.
Analysis of the most unprofessional portals
In the week from 26th April to 3rd May 2019, we identified a total of 17 clickbait texts on the three most unprofessional portals (saznajemo.net, narodni.info, and ekspresno.org). The most clickbait contents were identified on ekspresno.org – eight, saznajemo.net had seven clickbait contents and two were identified on the portal narodni.info.
The themes/areas that had the most clickbait were politics (4) and entertainment (5), followed by weather and meteorology (3). We identified two clickbait cases in each of the areas of pseudoscience and trivia, whereas the news section had one article with the characteristics of clickbait.
Interestingly, clickbait has encompassed almost all sections, which can lead to the conclusion that clickbait is essentially universal and that, consequently, it is necessary to constantly be on the guard. The fact that clickbait is equally present in politics and entertainment is a sign of the increasing showbusinessation of politics – given the fact that politics and showbusiness news are presented in the same way, i.e. packaged in identical forms, and it appears that the media is actively trying to contribute to the blurring of lines between politics and show business.
Among many examples, a particularly illustrative example of sensationalist clickbait was found on the portal ekspresno.org. The text Svijet u panici: Jedna izjava zabrinula je sve, je li moguće da je Putin premjestio nuklearni arsenal u Venzuelu!? (Global Panic: One Statement Has Everyone Worried, Is It Possible That Putin Relocated the Nuclear Arsenal to Venezuela!?) is an example of an extremely sensationalist headline aimed at drawing the attention of the audience.
Screen capture of the headline at ekspresno.org
Sensationalism is additionally amplified by the punctuation marks appearing at the end of the headline, which is unprofessional and is meant to confuse the audience, rather than to inform it. What is important in the context of recognizing clickbait is the fact that the headline emphasises that there is a “global panic”, as if it is a done deal, although it is not confirmed anywhere in the text itself that the Russian military arsenal is already in Venezuela. Therefore, it may be concluded that this text has elements of clickbait and sensationalism aimed at attracting the attention of the audience and increasing the number of clicks.
Besides that, we noticed that the portal “ekspresno.org" has a very interesting and unusual domain ".org", which is usually used for various social and political organisations which are not (necessarily) commercial by nature, not for media portals. The domain .org automatically contributes to a website's credibility. With this in mind, the initial reaction based on the domain name may be that "ekspresno.org" is trying to provide verified, quality and credible contents. However, we recorded the highest number of clickbait and sensationalism on this portal, in comparison to the other analysed portals.
Analysing domains is one of the most efficient ways to determine if a portal is trustworthy or not. For example, if we came across a portal “CNN.com.co”, it would be enough to question its credibility and the quality of contents published on it. Taking into account that most audiences do not have a habit of verifying the appearance of domains, the domain name “com.co” is actually an attempt to create an illusion that it is the official CNN.com portal.
However, what is a commendable feature of ekspresno.org is that the portal contains basic information on the ownership structure, address, and e-mail. Considering that it is possible to communicate with the editorial staff and possibly point out some omissions and errors in their work, we cannot place the portal in the same group with “unlicensed” portaloids that are largely overtaking the domestic online scene.
On the other hand, the portals saznajemo.net and narodni.info do not contain the section "About" or any sort of Legal Notice. In such cases, we can justly define them as "unlicensed" portals or portaloids which, at first glance, appear to contribute to the pluralism of the media scene, but in reality, contaminate it. Such portals usually serve as a way to earn money fast or a free range for propaganda and politics.
The portal narodni.info publishes 3-4 articles a day, often with questionable accuracy or unfounded details. It is significant to note that the majority of texts contains a multitude of grammatical and spelling errors which, although not the object of our analysis, can be proof of unprofessionalism, significantly undermines the credibility of the portal.
Almost all articles focus on show business and reality "stars", which leads to the conclusion that the primary function of the portal is exhausted in publishing cheap entertainment to ensure the coveted clicks. An illustrative example from the realm of showbusiness which we found on the portal is the article “Niko do sada nije znao da je ona bila čak dvije godine u braku sa njim… Pogledajte ko je bio njen partner!!”(Nobody Knew That She Was Married to Him for Two Years… Take a Look at Her Partner!!).
Screen capture of the headline at narodni.info
Although the headline announces with bells and whistles that the audience will have the chance to find out the name of the popular reality star Stanija Dobrojević’s former marital partner, it is not revealed anywhere in the article. The only thing we do find out is that the woman was engaged to be married twice, and not even the fiancée’s name is revealed. Therefore, the article can be classified as pure clickbait, because the headline is merely bait, while the accompanying text does not correspond.
Examples of other clickbait articles published by the portal narodni.info are available in the following links:
“Lepa Brena nakon operacije će morati da uvede brojne promjene u svoj život, a posebno joj je teško jer će morati da se odrekne ovoga” (Lepa Brena Will Have to Make a Lot of Changes in Her Life After Surgery, THIS Will Be Especially Difficult to Give up),
“U domu Seke Aleksić je nastao HAOS za Uskrs kada se pojavio on” (CHAOS Arose When This Man Appeared at Seka Aleksić’s House for Easter),
“Vučić albanskim novinarima poručio kako se nada da će nekada barem Priština da bude 12. u njihovoj ligi” (Vučić Tells Albanian Reporters That He Hopes One Day Priština Will Be at Least in 12th Place in Their League),
“Džejla Ramović najveći favorit za pobjedu, a pogledajte šta je Jelena na to rekla” (Džejla Ramović the Biggest Favourite to Win, Look at What Jelena Had to Say About That),
“Mihajlovu prostitutku je uznajmio suprug ove poznate pjevačice” (Mihajlo’s Prostitute Was Hired by This Famous Singer’s Husband),
“Sutra nas očekuje snažno nevrijeme, pogledajte što meteorolozi predviđaju” (Tomorrow We Will Have Strong Thunderstorms, See What Meteorologists Predict).
During the analysed period, the website saznajemo.net published 11 articles, two of which contained clickbait. One of the news that stands out in the period refers to the statement made by the Serb Member of the Presidency of BiH, Milorad Dodik. The news headline, “Milorad Dodik – Srbima smeta ezan koji se čuje u 5 ujutro. Poštujem ja to, ali neka ga onesposobe (VIDEO)” (Milorad Dodik: Serbs Are Bothered by the Adhan at 5 A.M. I Respect It, but It Should Be Disabled (VIDEO)), does not completely correspond to the accompanying text.
Screen capture of the headline at saznajemo.net
The article lists what Dodik had to say about the General Elections in BiH, where it was emphasized that he expects victory "upcoming elections". Interestingly, the elections took place in October 2018 and Dodik had already won as Serb Member of the Presidency of BiH, while the news article was created in April 2019. Nowhere in the text is the headline statement clarified, which may lead to the conclusion that it is classic clickbait. The headline also emphasized that there is a video, which the article announces only textually "See Dodik insult Muslims", although there is no link to the video that would prove he did that.
Analysis of professional websites
In the period from 3rd May to 10th May, we monitored the three most widely read portals according to alexa.com: Klix, Avaz and Expresstabloid. All three portals may be regarded as professional in terms of having a Legal Notice section – the sites very clearly list information on the ownership and/or editorial structure.
Expresstabloid is owned by Avaz, however, it focuses on publishing news from entertainment and show business. The portal published a large number of articles every day, accompanied by plenty of photographs and sensationalist headlines. Expresstabloid has ten sections on its website in which as many as 365 articles were published during the observed period. Of those articles, 63 has clickbait elements. An illustrative example is the article “Nova uvreda za pjevačicu: Saša Popović isprozivao Viki Miljković” (Yet Another Insult for the Singer: Saša Popović Calls out Viki Miljković). This is a clickbait headline because the content of the article merely states that the show's host had a bit of fun with the singers in the studio.
While analysing the contents, we noticed that this website published specific clickbait contents which are essentially photographs of celebrities from earlier periods when they were "unrecognisable". Such photographs are usually announced as follows: "Today, He Is One of Our Greatest Singers” or “Can You Guess Who This Is?”. Although the text reveals the identity of the person in the photograph, the headline aims at “baiting” the audience to click. It appears that this form of content is solely focused on clicks, while the informative value is highly questionable or in the background. Contents such as this can be classified as so-called pseudo-events, and their only purpose is to add to the popularity of their main subjects.
We identified two examples of such contents during the monitoring period. The first example is a photograph of the singer Fatmir Sulejmani, who is identified in the headline as one of the “best voices” in our country. Since the photograph is from early childhood, it is practically impossible to recognise or even assume who it might be.
In the second example, the audience is given the task of identifying the singer Tijana Dapčević in an early childhood photograph, which is also aimed at getting as many clicks as possible. However, this type of content is formulated as a quiz, which will naturally entice the audience to take part in trying to solve the puzzle. This hybrid new media genre, which is classified under clickbait, appears to be a powerful means for collecting clicks and achieving greater interaction with the audience.
In addition to classic clickbait contents, this portal also contains many sensationalist headlines, while the accompanying article explains the news event from the headline with no “inflation” whatsoever. Generally, such headlines cannot be classified as clickbait, because their contents contain all the information announced in the headline. Therefore, even though the headline is sensationalist, it does not always mean that it is clickbait.
We identified a total of five clickbait articles on the news portal of the newspaper Dnevni Avaz. Out of that number, four clickbait articles were from the section of entertainment, and one was from politics. The classic clickbait article we identified referred to the rapper Rasta: “Reper će u najkraćem roku biti procesuiran: Rasta mora provesti tri godine u zatvoru” (Rapper to Be Processed Immediately: Rasta Must Spend Three Years in Prison). This bombastic headline was accompanied by an article explaining that marijuana abuse can carry a three-year sentence – therefore, it is all a “what if” assumption, meaning that there was no verdict and that the rapper did not even go to jail.
During the seven-day monitoring of the Klix.ba portal we have not identified a single case of clickbait. However, it is interesting to note that the text “Mohammed Most Popular Name in Berlin in 2018” appeared during the monitoring period. It turned out that the information was false because the most popular male name in Berlin was Paul. The editorial staff reacted promptly and corrected the article, which finally had the headline “Mohammed ipak nije bilo najpopularnije ime u Berlinu u 2018. godini, Paul na vrhu liste” (Mohammed Not Most Popular Name in Berlin in 2018, Paul at the Top of the List). The problem arose because the “fake news” that the most popular male name in Berlin is Mohammed simply became viral and was shared by German politicians, as well as by other media outlets. The reason behind the news’ virality was the fact that conservative German politicians constantly try to shift public attention to the possible issue of too many migrants, and publishing the claim was aimed at creating panic among citizens.
Although there may have been no intention to publish false information, it is the job of journalists to verify the credibility of information they publish multiple times. We cannot classify the unprofessional “gaffe” as intentional disinformation of malinformation.
Conclusion: clickbait reserved for showbusiness and “unlicensed” portals
After 15 days of monitoring, we can conclude that clickbait does take up significant media space, but on "unlicensed" portals, whereas, in credible news media (such as Klix.ba and Avaz.ba), the phenomenon remains peripheral. We have identified only five cases of clickbait on the portal Avaz.ba, and none on Klix.ba.
The majority of identified clickbait was found on the tabloid portal Express, which is not unusual considering that clickbait predominantly targets the areas of entertainment, celebrities and show business. One of the reasons for this might be that the portal had the highest number of articles published, more than all the other portals combined (365), of which 17% (63) were clickbait. Therefore, in the multitude of articles published daily on this portal, less than one fifth was clickbait, which is a problem, but not on a worrying scale. It is sensationalism, but considering that it is a tabloid clearly declared as a portal for publishing cheap entertainment, such a conclusion is not surprising.
The real issue is the enormous number of unlicensed portals in BiH contaminating the public online space. Their role is simple – to collect clicks at all cost, which means publishing non-credible stories, outdated news repackaged in a new way, “fake news” and, of course, clickbait.
In addition to this, the portals often hide behind "serious" domain names, such as ".org", which can lead the less media-literate audience to the wrong conclusion that they are credible news sites. Another potential danger is that we have identified certain clickbait elements in political articles, which is a sign of the entertainmentisation / showbussinesization of politics.
Namely, the fact that entertainment and politics are packaged in the same way (infotainment) and physically occupy the same media space definitely contributes to the media banalisation of politics which, in hindsight, may have negative effects on democratic processes in broadest terms.