Posted on November 1, 2022 in Technology

Algorithm Hook-Mush

An inability to see the words for what they are instead of ‘hooks’ has led to a bizarre scattering of videos asking questions to nobody in particular. Algorithms encourage it.

“Why is Nobody Talking About….?”

This, as an opening line for a video, is fine in a vacuum. But it’s not applicable to every situation: “Why is Nobody Talking About [This Thing]?” implies that knowledge of the mystical “Thing” is common and there’s just not a lot of discussion around it. If this is how you introduce the concept, that’s why nobody is talking about it.

For example – a video is circulating around TikTok about ‘mini loaf pan lasagna’. It’s a mishmash of different ideas that have been around a minute, sure (using zucchini instead of noodles, using a smaller pan to make the lasagna, using a bread pan specifically) but this exact mix of ideas hasn’t spawned before. Cool, the video serves as a proof of concept that you can really alter a lasagna to the point of being nearly unrecognizable and it will still be, in spirit, a lasagna. However. The video starts off by asking why ‘nobody is talking about mini loaf pan lasagna.’ They’re not talking about it because A) the person making the video may as well have just invented it, and B) despite being a constellation of ‘alternative lasagnas’ crammed into one being, the final product does not introduce new ideas. While I’m sure it was a fine meal, it’s not virally stylish. It’s just food. In a real sense, it doesn’t do anything worth talking about, and that’s fine! It’s easy, attainable food, and it doesn’t need to be a discussion topic for a bunch of random strangers online.

Good places to use this hook are places where there’s either serious revelations, ideas or themes that get overlooked in discussion of the thing, or places where it makes sense that you ‘should’ have heard about it but nobody in the media at large is discussing it. For example – Puerto Rico has had a brutal monsoon season and the entire island is without power as of September, 2022. Why is nobody talking about it? Or, if you’re sick of disaster news and want industry gossip for TV shows instead, the Amazon LOTR reboot is absolutely riddled with flaws, because they rely on non-union labor to produce the costumes, to work the camera equipment, to write the script, to style the hair and create the incorrectly lit CGI monsters, etc. and it all looks horrible! All of it looks rushed beyond belief because there’s no unions to set reasonable timeframes! Why is nobody talking about that?  Why does the GoT prequel suck up all the fantasy discussion?

You can’t just use this hook willy-nilly. Hooks have to make sense in context! Similar hooks are “Y’all don’t want to talk about…” or “…but we won’t talk about that,” which are usually set ups for debates in the comments (which is good for content interaction metrics). This, like the “nobody is talking about…” hook, relies on A) the discussion item being common knowledge and B) the discussion item being debatable in a way that’s not going to go nuclear in the comments. Or blow up in the poster’s face.

A Simple Sentence. And a Statement Regarding a Quality of the First One.

Notice that some sites have developed a formula for their headlines? Usually, it’s two simple sentences. If I were to apply it here, the title of this article would be something like: “TikTok Posters Are Using The Same Hooks. Online Magazines are Starting to do the Same.”  

This headline is great at conveying news about things like studies, where the second sentence can build off the first. “A Study Found Cats Love Catnip. That’s Great News for Catnip Companies”. Or, it can notice a trend in a market place: “We’ve Reached Peak Wellness. Most of it Is Nonsense.” ( for example. It’s punchy, simple, and most importantly, distinct.

 It is not good for everything. Firstly, the second sentence in this format is almost always the same length as the first – it becomes completely impossible to convey any nuance that may exist in the article, and while regular headlines have that issue too, this headline has compressed itself to pug-like levels in order to keep your attention. As a result, the headline can imply things it doesn’t mean, or sink into black-and-white distinctions that color the reading of the actual article. It’s punchy, and it’s better than a lot of clickbait styles commonly used for headlines, but it’s far from being a universally useful option.

Other, similar structures include “Do(n’t) X during Z. Here’s Why.” Which runs into a similar problem of painting a picture that’s much too simple for the article. CNN says “Don’t Shower During a Thunderstorm. Here’s Why.” The New York Times says “The Fed Appears More Optimistic Than Some Investors. Here’s Why.” But if you just read the headline, you’ve gleaned all the information (you think) they want to tell you, and they’re relying on your burning sense of curiosity to entice you to click, log in or sign up, and scroll through a wasteland of ads to learn why you shouldn’t shower during a thunderstorm or why the feds are optimistic. But that’s a lot of work, and most people won’t.

Special Mention: Algorithmic Internal Monologue

The first comments on funny, viral TikToks are often just a meme that’s hot that week. It may apply, or it may not, but either way it ends up near the top. The second comments are the hot meme from last week. A channel has to actively curate a community that can make funny, unique jokes, because if it doesn’t, those end up at the bottom in favor of the comments the commentor saw somewhere else, peeled up like a sticker, and applied at random. The funny thing about this is that it’s not actually all that effective: the commentors doing this make the same comment on a whole selection of their FYP (for you page, the ‘front page’ of TikTok) videos, and eventually, like a broken clock, sometimes they get it right and end up with a ton of hearts.

A similar phenomenon is the habit of asking the video creator for permission to do something that seems obvious. “Can I leave out the sesame seeds if I’m allergic to sesame?” on a recipe video, or the flipside, “I don’t have hot glue. Can I use Elmer’s glue?” instead. The youngest age TikTok allows on their platform is 13, and these are the sort of questions that should be resolved with a moment of thought or googling. Instead, because TikTok rewards these comments just like it rewards those hooks, they post the thought the second they have it. The content machine demands content, getting likes on a comment triggers the part of the brain that likes to gamble, and as such they keep posting until they accidentally ask something insightful.

Other honorable mentions include asking why people handling food aren’t wearing gloves (which is a Googleable question, but the short answer is that clean hands washed according to SafeServ recommendations don’t taint food, and gloves can provide a false sense of cleanliness), comments from laymen that question the knowledge of an expert in a craft in a way meant to start a slapfight in the comments for interaction points, or comments that ask where to get a nondescript item such as a plain white T-shirt or blue mug.

Write hooks and comments that make sense, not hooks and comments that ‘create engagement’. You can’t ‘create engagement’ with algorithms alone, the audience has to be able to engage!