Vehicles that propagate clickbait and fake news are nothing new. The number of websites and profiles on social networks that copy and distort news in search of clicks is growing. The column has already talked about how celebrities are used to get your attention, how Google’s algorithms are tricked and explained why these click-bait operations are so harmful for journalism.
But as video becomes popular in the country, clickbait operations are also spreading across video platforms such as YouTube and bringing new risks to the already so-suffering news market.
According to the Inside Video survey, by Kantar IBOPE Media, released last Tuesday, video content has already reached 99.6% of the Brazilian population (data is from 2022 and may already be higher).
Traditional TV is still dominant in the country. Among televisions, smartphones, tablets and computers, 78.7% of household consumption was for linear TV programming, open or closed. The other 21.3% are from online platforms.
Among them, when talking about video, YouTube is absolute. Alone, Google’s video network represents 16.3% of the audience share in January, more than double the sum of all streaming platforms in Brazil.
Problem for serious journalism
The percentage of TVs with internet access and apps in Brazil grew by 25%, from 34% in 2018 to 59% in 2022, according to the study. As connected TVs become more popular, consumption of online video and platforms such as YouTube is increasing.
An important factor is that as videos leave cell phones and migrate to TV, so does their credibility, as they replicate the TV experience, associated with more serious news, especially among an older audience.
But with the rise of clickbait content on YouTube, serious channels that invest in journalism lose audience and revenue, which makes it increasingly difficult to compete and survive by producing reports and original content.
Fight for money and attention
The internet has already killed most of the traditional news outlets. However, competition with those who use news but do not invest in journalism makes the situation worse. The problem is even more serious in independent or medium and small press vehicles. In the rare cases where they have managed to migrate to digital, they are increasingly dependent on the money they receive from Google and YouTube advertising.
Regardless of the size of the press vehicle, the dilemma is the same: having to compete with clickbait and fake news, since fiction and creativity are the limit, not good journalistic practice. The result is clickbait channels and sites robbing news outlets of audience and potential revenue.
Deaths that don’t exist, Michelle Bolsonaro innocent?
Just look at TV News no Ar to understand the size and reach of YouTube. With more than 1.62 million subscribers, in February the channel was viewed more than Jovem Pan, CNN, UOL and SBT News on YouTube, according to data from the Playboard platform.
Headlines like “TURNBACK! JEWELS WERE NOT FOR MICHELLE BOLSONARO – Michelle Bolsonaro Inocente?” or “THE WORST NEWS ARRIVES. UNFORTUNATELY, OUR BELOVED JOJO TODYNHO”. Titles with the word mourning or headlines that imply the death of personalities are recurrent on the channel, even when the personality in question is alive.
One of the tricks used by TV News no Ar is to hide sensitive words by replacing letters with numbers. The word death, for example, is written with zero instead of the letter O. The measure aims to bypass YouTube’s filters. The practice is also common in Instagram gossip profiles, a clear violation of the policies of companies that seem to turn a blind eye, since the profiles have high engagement.
William Bonner and journalists from Globo (yes, journalists ironically) are among the favorite targets of those who produce clickbait. The presenter of Jornal Nacional is presumed dead practically every day on some YouTube channel. An alleged separation from Bonner and even his return with Fátima Bernardes also generated a lot of clicks.
Behind the scenes of TV News no Ar
TV News no ar was created by journalist Fernando Borges, in 2008, even before he studied journalism at UERJ. The channel started off YouTube and debuted on the platform in 2010, attracted by the growth of the medium.
TV News no Ar is notorious for catchy headlines, but Borges is far from an amateur. He produced the documentary ‘Aconteceu, turned Manchete’, which tells the story of TV Manchete, and was awarded.
Borges states that TV News no Ar changes a lot and constantly. “The project made me learn what I know today and it has been changing. It changes all the time. I think that explains being on the air for so long and still managing to keep the audience”.
Clickbait, for TV News, is ‘most popular language’
According to Borges, over time he learned that “to reach the public you need to have a simpler and more popular language”. Nor can one have prejudice with forms, or subjects. “In general, if there is interest in the topic, I approach it. I’ve even done live on bitcoin, BBB, politics, tragedy and gossip. Almost always the videos are live, so I believe that this conveys the necessary confidence and agility for the internet journalism”.
Borges says he doesn’t compete with traditional outlets as the others just put their programming on YouTube, while he produces specifically for the platform. “Whoever watches it is looking for CNN or Jovem Pan. In the case of TV News, people are more looking for the themes that are presented, or are interested in what they are seeing there with title and cover”.
The content producer highlights two realities. First, it understands the algorithm game better than its traditional competitors. Second, TV News no Ar, after years of learning, is largely the result of adjustments to meet what YouTube delivers more efficiently to users.
“In fact, most of the coverage is a repercussion of what other means of communication have already given”, says Borges. “However, we also have our sources and sometimes we give first-hand news. Recently, for example, in the case of Glória Maria’s death, even before the death we already had all the information that was later placed in the media. A lot of things we preferred not to expose, since it was a delicate moment for the family. Sometimes, it’s also not worth it in terms of ‘audience’.”
YouTube despises original journalistic content?
Borges’ reality is the same as that of traditional vehicles on YouTube and other platforms, the incentive for journalistic investigation and coverage of relevant topics, but which do not generate an audience as entertainment, is less and less.
“As much as we already have a consolidated audience, it is difficult for us to give things firsthand to generate interest outside the channel itself, which, in general, also reduces Ibope”, says Borges.
The problem is that while TV News ao Vivo is a small operation focused on passing on the news of other vehicles, the vehicles that break the news and investigate news face more and more difficulty in closing the account, since the audience and advertisers are concentrated on Google. But for Google, what counts is the click, not the originality or authenticity of the content.
YouTube sold $29 billion in ads last year, a tenth of Google’s revenue. According to research firm Ampere Analysis, the global free-to-air advertising market is worth US$140 billion.
Journalism represents a minuscule fraction of Google’s revenue. But more and more the search giant decides what “is news” and the way that vehicles and journalists produce to satisfy the algorithms. Google controls the largest cellphone operating system, Android; and also Chrome, the most popular browser on computers.
News affects all of society and is an essential part of any democratic regime. With the growth of the use of artificial intelligence, accessible to anyone and applied to the production of content, the problem of clickbait, fake news and copying of intellectual property should grow exponentially.
I asked YouTube about channels that use clickbait to please the algorithm. The press office questioned the column about how I discovered the content, but did not respond to the forwarded questions. We’ve gotten to the point where even Google doesn’t seem to have the answers. It’s not surprising that governments around the world are moving and creating new rules to help the company find a solution.
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