The Invasion of Thirst Trap Content

January 25, 2023

From Merriam-Webster:

The GQ giants names [Rihanna] Queen of the Thirst Trap, which they define as: “the act of disingenuously posting sexy photos-while suggesting the subject of the photo is something else entirely-in an effort to elicit the lust (thirst) of followers.” We like this definition. — Jess Wilson, The Mirror, 3 December 2013

Why It Matters

Social media content used to feel like a reflection of the community of people that shared an interest. Social media algorithms (and maybe audiences) are favoring content that has a specific aesthetic. What was once titillating now feels like a tired trope. As algorithms favor this content, I wonder what voices are being crowded out.

On YouTube It’s the Shorts

This phenomenon hits strangely on YouTube where the adoption of their shorts platform seems to disproportionately attract thirst trap content while older content is in the regular landscape format. Just look at these search results for best guitar riffs: a screenshot of YouTube showing landscape videos of primarily men and vertical videos of primarily women

It Might Not be the Algorithm’s Fault

There is a universal truth that sex sells and on any platform that rewards engagement the thirst traps will beat similar non-thirst trap content. This content is being created and boosted because it is what people want to see. I do not fault the creators for fulfilling a demand, especially if their interest in a topic is authentic. However when a topic I search for on YouTube like woodworking elicits lots of thirst traps, my eyes will roll at least a little bit.

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This work by Matt Zagaja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.