Click-bait, gaslighting, going viral . . . these new words!

KalI in pensive mood

Apparently, photos of cats being cute are the most clicked items in all of social media. Not that we’re looking for a viral response here today amongst the regular daily entries of Allendale Diary or anything, just saying. . . (as one does in various comment spaces everywhere). But today I’m thinking about the new words that are constantly being thrown up and which do enrich our lives, as long as we remember what they mean!

Take ‘click-bait’ for example. It’s obvious, I guess: an image, a phrase, a contentious headline that compels viewers/readers to click for further information, thereby enhancing traffic through a site to bring in more advertising revenue. The more outrageous the better, and yes, I’ve been seduced during periods of roaming about the great outer internet to click on something that surprises. Almost always disappointing though.

Another word that always flummoxes me: gaslighting. I seem to have to look it up whenever I come across it, but then it is rather obscure, referencing a play and film of the same name from the late 1930s/early 1940s, being a strategic attack on someone’s sense of wellbeing and sanity, which might well develop until the target self-harms. The concept feels so alien to me, but I suppose it’s part of the armamentorium used by the ubiquitous trolls who inhabit the dark scroll spaces of comment sections. I’ve known about flame wars (but are they still called that?) since the very beginnings of the internet, of course, as emotions in front of a screen somehow feel very raw.

Imagine you’re a regular columnist say, like John Crace of The Guardian, who has no compunction about describing his own fragile mental health, but whose work as political sketchwriter is among the most apt of any I’ve read. It was John who invented the term ‘Maybot’ to describe Theresa May’s robotic interpersonal intelligence, social ineptitude and persistent refusal to answer a straight question. You might want to relax, having invented a word or concept that enters the lexicon, having made your mark, but then you might realise that you’re only as good as the next column, the next sketch. And maybe you can use that need to continue to excel so as to create even more useful contributions.

But it’s fun to think that something we’ve created, just a little snippety-bit of something, might capture the attention of huge numbers of people — it’s a bit like winning the lottery must feel like, suddenly having hundreds of thousands of viewers watching a cute gif of your domestic feline, that you’ve managed to capture. Once you’ve experienced that rush of pleasure, though, what next? Maybe you’ll fall into an obsessive-compulsive need to repeat the experience. After a while then, you might need to give the whole social media thing a rest, for your own sanity.

Partly it’s that fear of coping with unexpected, if transient fame, I guess, that compels me to try to keep this diary local, without any wish to go viral in any way. But no doubt, lurking in the back of my mind, there’s a little frisson of ‘what if’ some deathless words, some comment on life in this rural idyll, make the transition to a larger audience. I’m sure somewhere in there I can be as shameless as the next writer — but I would prefer to think of myself as shy, retiring, humble even.

As long as we can be sufficiently reflective about life, about what’s actually real and what a delusion of grandeur, perhaps we’ll be safe — remember Rudyard Kipling’s admonition about imposters! Meanwhile, bring on the new words — I love ’em!

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