You’re scrolling through Facebook and you see a news article with a headline that’s just too interesting to ignore. Headlines like this:
“RIP Betty White”
“Exclusive: Natalie Nunn Is Pregnant and We Have the Nude Photos to Prove It”
“Just In: Republicans Announce ‘Muslim Burqa Ban’”
Or the #1 fake news story of the year: “Pope Francis Endorses Donald Trump”
You click the headline. Of course you do. That’s why those headlines exist, to convince you to click on them.
This brings you to a website loaded with ads, so loaded that it’s hard to tell exactly where the story is amid all that noise. Or it brings you to one of those annoying online slide shows, where every item in the article is listed on a separate page, and each page is, of course, covered in ads.
The best case scenario is that you’re mildly entertained for a minute or two. Some of these stories are entertaining. A few of them are at least partly factual. Most, though, are just designed to increase page views and collect information on users.
Everywhere you go online your computer is collecting cookies. No not chocolate chip, but internet cookies, little bits of code that help websites recognize you. So when you return to a website that you’ve been to before, cookies help the website remember things like which links you’ve already clicked on and what your user name is.
Cookies can’t hurt your computer, but other things can. If you struggle with repeated spyware or malware, you might want to think about being more selective with your browsing. Unsecure sites are most likely to carry malware and falling for clickbait is a great way to find yourself on those sites.
How do you avoid getting sucked in by clickbait?
Step one: when you see a news story that’s too outrageous to be true, fact check it on a reputable news site. There’s no guarantee that Fox News, CNN, or the New York Times stories will be flawless, but they’re less likely to carry malware.
Step two: if you just can’t live without seeing those Natalie Nunn photos, make sure you have a malware protection program, like Malware Bytes installed on your computer. Malware Bytes isn’t a perfect solution, but it will give you some protection from potential attacks.