It’s Christmas Day. While everyone else is sat at home drinking eggnog and watching Die Hard, I’m in the fancy office of a popular clickbait farm. It’s a converted warehouse littered with MacBooks, freebies sent from companies desperate for their product to be plugged, and the pingpong tables, game consoles, and bar you’ll find in every office that wants you to be there as much as possible.
There are four writers on the evening shift today, and we’re all swigging Jack Daniels straight from the bottle. Everyone’s a bit agitated because it’s Christmas Day, and not enough people are reading our atrocious 300-word blog posts with titles like “5 Things You Won’t Believe About Kanye West, Number 4 Will Really Shock You” because, unlike us, they’re spending the holidays with people they love and have forgotten about reading trash online.
The work in our content mill (situated, ironically enough, in an old mill) is not for the faint-hearted. Each writer has to produce eight articles a day, five days a week. If you don’t get decent traffic, you’ll be summoned to the shiny boardroom and told, “Look, it’s not good enough. If you can’t do the job, we’ll get people who can.” This happens routinely. Things get very tense.
“Fuck it, let’s make it up.”
The number of visitors to the website is displayed, in real time, on large screens. Our industrial content machine runs incessantly and stops for nothing or nobody, a new lashed-together article is published every 10 minutes, seven days a week, 365 days a year. It’s a revolving door of editorial garbage. If you’ve ever wondered why so many companies resort to false and misleading titles and asked, “Why don’t they just write something with some merit?”—it’s because if you write something honestly, you won’t get as many precious clicks. And if there aren’t enough clicks, writers like me are out of a job.
Because it’s Christmas Day, the digits on the wall are getting dangerously low. The advertisers won’t like this, our boss will say.
“Fuck it, let’s make it up,” a colleague splutters. A salacious piece of fiction about a man’s love life soon materializes. It is published, causing the figures to shoot up at the speed of an electrical jolt. It went super viral and the next day was being covered by mainstream news outlets all over the world, which at the time, I’ve got to be honest, I found mildly amusing.