Clickbait, chain mail, and now the spammers have you

This article contains lots of information about clickbait. You won't believe number seven! There's also some stuff about chain mail. Share this article with ten friends, or a mysterious ghost will haunt you for the rest of eternity!

Shock and awe

There's one trait that many mammals on planet Earth share: gullibility. You can witness this in its simplest form by pretending to throw a ball near a dog, and watching the dog run after the ball which is still in your hand. Gullibility and the desire to make easy money are one of the biggest drivers of clickbait and chain mail around. There are many ways to gain money from this endeavour: information, entertainment, and fear.


Possibly the oldest form of gullibility is the desire for information in any form. We've all heard about fake news recently, but this has existed for as long as people have spoken. Chinese whispers alone can morph a legitimate story into a fake story; Send "The cat is fat" through ten junior school children, and you'll get something like "Kate is a prat" at the end. These stem from both miscommunication and the desire to change details just because you can, and it's why I insist on emails that explicitly detail everything a client wants.

I am a Capricorn, or an Aquarius depending on the source of your pseudoscience. Astrology has been a form of informational gullibility since its inception thousands of years ago, and it's currently a multi-billion dollar industry despite being entirely false. It's this desire for wealth at any cost, and the gullibility of humanity, that drives its continued existence.


Clickbait and "Like and Share" stories are the modern form of misinformation. Clickbait comes in several forms, and you've probably seen quite a lot of them. "27 ways to pickle an egg. You won't believe number 12!". "Bedford mom gains youth with one simple trick". "Fred earns $1,273 a day working from home!". Only the first of these titles wouldn't technically be against the Advertising Standards Authority's guidelines, but you already know that each of the 27 ways to pickle an egg will be on a separate page with ten adverts, each bringing in revenue for the website whilst simultaneously costing you money in bandwidth and slowing down the internet, and number 12 is going to be really dull. The other form of clickbait is by using a thumbnail image that completely misrepresents the content of an article or video, just so you'll click it. Again, it's usually for the purposes of gaining advertising revenue.

Like and share is almost exclusive to Facebook, and it's a way for spammers to quickly build a large database of users. The current fashionable like and share scheme you're likely to have seen many times in your feeds: "Top 20 girls who like a drink", followed by a list of the most common baby girl names from about 15 years ago. People share this stuff like crazy because it's funny and entertaining for them and their friends, but it's just giving spammers a way to make more money out of them. Spam annoys us on a daily basis, but the revenue it brings in from gullibility means that it's never going to go away. If I sound bitter about this one it's because my name has never been popular.


Luckily for most of us, fear is dying out. Before social media it was entirely email based, but has made some efforts to make it onto a social platform. There's usually some long and entirely false story, followed by a requirement to forward (or share and like) said story, or face the dire consequences which entail something that everyone wouldn't like: death, haunting, being alone for a long time, etc. Fear chain mail has its history associated with fearful wives tails, such as breaking a mirror gives you seven years bad luck. Let's just stop to think about all those poor people that work in the mirror recycling factory for a moment.

Once again, this type of chain mail relies on gullibility, and generates revenue for the spammers who get hold of large lists of people who've fallen for it. Younger humans (aka children) are typically more gullible than older ones, and thus are more likely to be tricked into this type of data collection. The lost bonus of email chains was that people were often included by their friends and couldn't escape, negating their requirement to reply before a spammer got hold of their email address.

The future

New forms of gullibility related ploys are being invented all the time. JavaScript that hides the mouse pointer and pops up a warning about viruses whilst giving you a number to call has conned many people out of hundreds of pounds. This new form of chain doesn't rely on people sharing anything at all, instead it relies on susceptible advertising slots – thus the chain is the advertiser.

Older forms of trickery die out eventually through education and legislation, such as PECR which is helping to combat spam, at least at the legislative level. The only forms of gullibility that are allowed to remain are those that are deemed, for the most part, relatively harmless. But you have to wonder if it's fair that people are allowed to make money from others gullibility. How many of these falsities have affected you and your family?