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Why Everyone Makes Dumb Faces in YouTube Thumbnails

Have you noticed how…weird YouTube thumbnails have gotten? They nearly always feature a human face looking at something, and that face is usually contorted into the most extreme emotion possible.

Sometimes faces are even photoshopped, just to make the reaction even more extreme. It’s kind of disturbing when you think about it.

Why did this happen? Here’s Joe Veix, writing for Open Space, a blog at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art:

Taken cumulatively, there’s a surreal, Lynchian quality to the images. Few things could ever be exciting enough to elicit these kinds of reactions, and no one could possibly be this expressive. So what’s wrong with these people?

Were their brains tenderized? No, worse. YouTube Face is clickbait, attaining human form.

The rest of the piece explores how algorithms measure clicks to determine what’s good, and what that leads to. People tend to click on thumbnails with human faces, so YouTubers used more faces. Then YouTubers noticed that the most extreme faces get the most clicks, and here we are.

All this happened so slowly we didn’t even notice. I shudder to think what the algorithms will convince us to do with our faces next.

Justin Pot Justin Pot
Justin Pot has been writing about technology for over a decade, with work appearing in Digital Trends, The Next Web, Lifehacker, MakeUseOf, and the Zapier Blog. He also runs the Hillsboro Signal, a volunteer-driven local news outlet he founded.
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