Do Clickbait Headlines Undermine the Credibility of Content and Experts?

By Kimberlee Morrison Comment


In recent years, social media has functioned to habitually strip content of its context. Sometimes this manifests as the rage of the mob calling for someone to be fired, or as harassment in one form or another. Shallow, clickbait headlines also strip context from content, causing readers to distrust the publication and the expert source as well.

Take the recent case of Lindsey Doe. She was credited as a mom talking about a high school boy pursuing her daughter, despite her daughter’s repeated pleas for him to stop. The video raised important points about consent, but the discussion around it devolved into one about shaming, helicopter parenting, and other personal attacks on Doe.

It’s possible the discussion would have turned out the same. It’s also possible that the headlines referring to Doe as “a mom,” or “YouTube personality” undermined the conversation, and ultimately, Doe’s credibility. While she is both a mom and a YouTube personality, Doe also has a Doctorate in human sexuality. She is also a clinical sexologist and her YouTube channel, Sexplanations, is dedicated to sex education.

Doe isn’t just some helicopter parent, harassing some boy for pursuing her daughter. Her experience and education make her an expert, uniquely positioned to talk about the issues of consent, boundaries, and relationships. However, the framing was what dominated the discussion.

But it wasn’t entirely the fault of the media; part of the challenge, according to the Columbia Journalism Review, is how sharing has changed among users. There is so much noise and information, consumers often turn to news aggregators, that summarize, quote and link the “hardest hitting news stories.” And most of the time, aggregators are chosen based on alignment with personal views.

Columbia Journalism Review contributor Ben Adler wrote:

Many young consumers prefer to have their news filtered by an individual or a publication with a personality rather than by a traffic-seeking robot or algorithm. They like to see news that is selected, and sometimes analyzed, through the prism of a certain sensibility or set of interests.

It has become standard practice among aggregators to rely on click bait headlines to drive shares, which is standard practice. But as we demonstrated above, the credibility of real experts like Doe can be undermined by the way framing of the information. Indeed, the push to get stories out there means that viral information goes unverified and click bait headlines undermine the authority of publications — and of experts.

Readers: Do you think clickbait headlines are becoming too misleading?

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.