Only a genius can answer this question!
August 1, 2019 1:32 PM   Subscribe

Is there a name for the phenomenon where a social media post presents a lightly challenging problem as a difficult brain teaser and dares you to try and be a "genius?" Is there any background information or studies I can read about why this is a thing and so seemingly pervasive?

You know, find the one '6' in a grid of a hundred or so '9s'. Solve the lateral thinking puzzle of mild difficulty. Read the passage that has all the letters in all the words reversed.

If I can do these things, I'm told, I am in a very small tier of the population with amazing skills, etc. I find the '6' in 4 seconds and I know I am no "genius."

So what gives? Why are there so many of these? What purpose do they serve (except to annoy me?)

And, mostly importantly, is there a name for this type of social media post I can use as I sneer dismissively at them?
posted by cross_impact to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
So what gives? Why are there so many of these? What purpose do they serve (except to annoy me?)

Well, the purpose of them is to get people to click on them, for the purpose of generating traffic and ad revenue. I can't find any specific studies about the "only a genius" thing, but I imagine it works because people enjoy being able to post a thing that declares them to be a genius.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:39 PM on August 1, 2019 [9 favorites]

"Clickbait" is the term you want.
posted by lazuli at 1:42 PM on August 1, 2019 [14 favorites]

This reminds me of when people post in Quora’s “brain teasers” category something like “What fruit can you spell with the letters ANGERO?” and 10 people straight-facedly answer “Orange.” I’m sure Quora appreciates the clicks but I’m not sure why the asker or the answerers are engaging in this.
posted by ejs at 1:47 PM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am very interested in this question, because I have noticed a similar phenomenon in the marketing of casual games. A lot of ads that I see say things like 'most people can't get past level X' and then, I assume, people click on it in order to feel smart for being able to get past level X.

In a related phenomenon, in a lot of game ads that include simulated game play, the fake games include deeply sub-optimal game play. Like, really obvious situations where the fake player has missed a good move and done something that ruins it instead. I assume those are meant to trigger viewers to think 'I wouldn't have made that mistake, I would be better at this game than this guy' and to want to prove it. Mostly it makes me think 'do the developers care so little about their games that they can't even be bothered to learn how to play them well?'
posted by jacquilynne at 1:51 PM on August 1, 2019 [13 favorites]

Well, the purpose of them is to get people to click on them

I'm not sure this is it. Most of the ones I've seen on Facebook there is no need to actually click on the puzzle in order to "solve" it. It's all there in the picture that comes up on the feed. Presumably they get something out of the liking, commenting and sharing, but I'm not sure ad revenue hits are the goal, since there really is no reason at all to click through to anything.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 2:32 PM on August 1, 2019

it's mild bragging, that's all. "I found the 6! Yay me."
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:35 PM on August 1, 2019

I'm not sure this is it. Most of the ones I've seen on Facebook there is no need to actually click on the puzzle in order to "solve" it.

There are a ton of metrics that FB (and the original poster) can collect from your engagement with it. Plus, Cambridge Analytica demonstrated that friend of friend permissions were a meaningless safeguard to privacy.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:52 PM on August 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

May I direct you to ShitMyStudentsWrite on Tumblr? There is a substantial chance that, no really, a substantial number of people find those puzzles challenging and feel a real sense of accomplishment when they can solve them.

For a long time, "had a computer and was online" was a mark of both intelligence and an interest in critical thinking. This is no longer the case. However, there's no shortage of people who want to believe that being online makes them smart - and are happy to share puzzles/brain teasers that confirm that belief.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:23 PM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

As I understand it, if you have interacted with a "page" (i.e. a company) on Facebook, then the platform considers you interested in that page and shows you its posts from then on.

So their plan is:
a) create a trashy meme page on facebook
b) get loads of "interaction" by posting a "can you spot the X here?" question
c) fill their page with ad-filled posts
d) the posts get shown to all the suckers from (b)
e) profit

If they just put ad-filled posts up on Facebook without doing step (b) then no-one gets shown them and they don't make money.

Can I recommend to hide ads on Facebook, and "uBlock Origin" to block them everywhere else?
posted by richb at 4:11 PM on August 1, 2019 [5 favorites]

I'm not sure everyone understands what kind of post you are referring to, based on some of these answers.

These aren't "pages" or "posts" that you interact with. You don't click anything. You don't engage. You just see that a friend posted "Only 3% of people can see the 8 in this image" and it's a bunch of numbers with an 8 somewhere in it.

I can't imagine Facebook or anyone else can track you for reading the post, as you don't interact with it at all. Perhaps they can note how long you paused your scrolling for that particular post, but that's about it.

I think the real goal is to get people to share the post ("If you see the 8, copy and paste this into your own page!") and track the number of times it is shared and by who.
posted by tacodave at 4:18 PM on August 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

richb has ir exactly right.

FB rewards pages with high engagement numbers by showing that page to more people. Pages inflate their engagement by posting some simple puzzle with the express intent of getting a whole bunch of people to comment “it’s a 6, duh!”
posted by sideshow at 5:14 PM on August 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

There are lots that you do click on. I saw one recently that was a vocabulary quiz- "Only someone with a 140 IQ knows all these words". Meanwhile, the words were from a high school English vocab test (at best). I think it works to get people clicking though, from what I see on Facebook. Tracking shares for those that aren't clicked on is a good guess.
posted by bearette at 6:41 PM on August 1, 2019

Best answer: The term y'all are looking for is like farming.

posted by Miko at 7:20 PM on August 1, 2019 [11 favorites]

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