Opinion: Where is the worth in Upworthy?

Joyce Ng is a senior English major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater.  Contact her at [email protected]

Joyce Ng

Have you noticed the recent surge of online news articles with headlines that don’t actually tell you what the article is about? Here’s one that the Huffington Post published a few days ago — “What Happened When Strangers Saw A Little Boy Shivering Outside Without A Coat.” These are headlines written in the Upworthy style. Upworthy is a news aggregator site, which was founded on Mar. 26, 2012. On Dec. 5, 2013, Upworthy announced on its blog that the site had 87 million unique visitors just within the month of November.

Eli Pariser, co-founder of Upworthy, stated that his editorial team works to create headlines with “a curiosity gap — a need to know more that prompts the impulse to click on something.” This is known as click baiting. By presenting information in a tantalizing and ridiculous manner, it lures people into clicking on a link which logs one more page view for the website.

Upworthy’s blog states the site’s great success lies in more than the headlines. More importantly, people share Upworthy’s content with their friends and family. The blog also claims that Upworthy truly believes in sharing content that is valuable and worth people’s time, so they employ curators to find “super-shareable” content on the Internet every week and post them on Upworthy.

Upworthy has played the click baiting game so well that even reputable news sites such as the Washington Post, Huffington Post, and Bloomberg’s Business Week have begun to write their headlines in the Upworthy style. It is disappointing to see so many news sites fall so quickly into this trend of headlines.

The over-sensationalizing of news is not a new concept. In the 1890s, yellow journalism emerged — a type of journalism which contained little legitimate news and used exaggeration of events and scandals to attract more readers. While Upworthy’s news is generally legitimate, its headlines are a form of yellow journalism. It frequently uses the second person in its headlines and goes something like this — “You’ll never believe…”, “If you think …” or “Just wait till you watch this video.” Statements like these essentially command how you should feel and think about certain topics.  Headlines like these not only oversell their content but also impose their biases on you.

There is little journalistic integrity in the Upworthy-style headline — it is cheap and tacky and only aims to draw in revenue through clicks. It has little concern with the actual purpose of journalism — which is to report the truth. Employing curators to find “super-shareable” content shows that Upworthy’s concern is with popularity, not with the sharing of valuable information.

I’m confident that Upworthy-style headlines are a fad that will soon pass. Many of my peers have expressed that they are getting tired of them, and that they often just scroll past them. No one likes being told what to think or how to feel. When curiosity-inducing headlines stop working, Upworthy will have to come up with a new strategy for success. Hopefully, it will take a more tasteful and honest approach — if not, it will simply crash and burn.