If you have ever ventured into the world of social media video streaming, you have undoubtedly confronted a seemingly endless number of streams claiming to have live broadcasts. These could be everything from first-run movies to major sporting events and more.
Alas, you click on the stream and sadly realize that you have been duped; the stream is nothing more than the cyber equivalent of a carnival barker. Upon closer examination, your hopes are reignited by downward-facing arrows pointing to a link with a claim that the HD feed can be accessed for free with just one click. Perhaps your hopes are even boosted by an audio track or a distorted video of the program being advertised.
So what do you do?
Stop while you are feeling foolish? Or double-down, risking embarrassment if you end up downloading a virus, ransomware?
You, my friend, have become another victim of clickbait.
What Is Clickbait?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, clickbait is defined as “articles, photographs, etc. on the internet that are intended to attract attention and encourage people to click on links to particular websites.”
If it ended there, with a case of simple embarrassment, we could all call it a learning experience and move on. However, there is a far more troubling and insidious consequence of clickbait for both content owners and viewers, especially when it comes to social media streaming.
Instead of deciding that one mistake is enough, many choose to sample dozens of streams claiming to have the desired content. Because of the prevalence of what I have called “nano-piracy,” or, as I described in another article, “using or taking either live or recorded proprietary content, capturing it on a device, like a smartphone and then using a live-streaming app to stream it on social media,” sooner than later, the streaming novice will click on a link that does have the sought-after content. It is at that point the transition into the world of piracy begins. In some ways, it is analogous to the concept of gateway drugs, a habit-forming drug that, while not itself addictive, may lead to the use of other addictive drugs.
Clickbait can be far from harmless. It familiarizes viewers with nano-piracy and teaches that content doesn’t need to be paid for. Clickbait streams also lead to IPTV (internet protocol television) marketers who use both clickbait and actual live streams to sell their products, many of which enable the purchaser to illegally view multiple forms of content for free.
Recently, Nic Newman of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism wrote on why clickbait is not only attractive to actual pirates but also to the less sophisticated fan who may be surfing for what’s trending on YouTube or Facebook. “Popularity based algorithms are encouraging clickbait, a surfeit of viral videos and other sensationalist material,” he says on Digital News Publications.
This in turn also drives more people into the social media piracy environment because of the allure of getting “something for nothing,” coupled with the common perception that there is no real consequence for viewing pirated streams.
Finally, most broadcasters and content protection companies choose to not invest time preventing these seemingly harmless clickbait streams. Quite often they are disregarded as harmless and even a nuisance for those seeking to find an illegal stream.
Even Stan McCoy, president and managing director of MPA EMEA, acknowledges the allure of clickbait while dismissing it as a futile attempt to acquire pirated content. He writes on Boxoffice Pro: “Try looking for alternatives on a search engine and you’re more likely than ever to get malware and clickbait sites posing as pirates. Are you feeling lucky? Sign up for a ‘dodgy box’ — an IPTV device loaded with pirate apps — and you’ll risk finding that you’ve just subscribed to a doorstop.”
Once a curious stream seeker is in the streaming piracy ecosystem, they play their own form of whack-a-mole. In this version of whack-a-mole, the viewer is the mole and seeks to avoid the mallet. Essentially, the viewer plays a game of finding streams of the sought-after content, which are missed by the anti-piracy mallet.
If one stream is taken down, they immediately look for another or even click to alternative backup streams listed in the description of the original stream. Many times such messages say if the stream gets taken down, go to this link or follow this Instagram or other social media account that is also simultaneously streaming the desired content.
In the meantime, legal subscriptions are lost, potential customers become entrenched in the world of streaming piracy, and legally purchasing viewers have the value of their purchase eroded.
I prescribe the following:
For content creators and broadcasters: It would be wise not to ignore clickbait. It drives piracy and acclimates potential pirates to the major platforms which are rife with actual illegal streams. Unbeknownst to many in the content protection industry, clickbait streams can be dynamic and alternate between actual illegal content and text in the hope the takedown police will miss them.
For viewers: Protect yourself from malware risks and refrain from looking for free content.
In turn, content creators and broadcasters should come up with incentives to keep the public out of the piracy abyss.
Treat clickbait streams as a lit cigarette that can cause a devastating forest fire. The faster this flame is extinguished, the less digital acreage will be stolen.