Clickbait | Kyle Kim
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article do not reflect the opinions of Pulse Magazine as a whole.
A couple of days ago, I was scrolling through my Google News feed. I came across a headline from Fox News that read, “Netflix’s ‘Squid Game’ creator says Donald Trump’s election helped inspire him to finally make the hit show.” Naturally, I felt inclined to learn more about the headline’s claim. In reality, the article discussed how the show’s creator, Hwang Dong-hyuk, was shocked by the resemblance of Donald Trump to the show’s VIPs (grossly wealthy billionaires who feed on the desperation of the poor for their own entertainment) and decided to release the show in light of Trump’s election and policy decisions. Of course, the headline that drew me into the article was almost entirely opposite to the actual contents of the article. Instead of Trump being a creative catalyst for the show, as the headline implies, Trump’s election served as a real-life representation of the show’s darkest themes, creating a relevance for the release of “Squid Game.”
This headline serves as one example of a larger phenomena of sensationalized and skewed headlines in major news outlets. Just as this right-leaning publication warped a quote into a pro-Trump headline, news entities have been using headlines to their advantage for essentially as long as news has existed.
In the 21st century, one main reason why news publications will sensationalize their headlines is to gain revenue. In an era where the main sources of profit for news organizations are advertisements and subscriptions, gaining a click is often all they desire from an average user. Locking articles behind a paywall follows this same idea, as these attractive headlines are all that companies can display to a user for them to get their wallets. The fact of the matter is that these corporations need to make money to sustain themselves, and “clickbaiting” is an effective method of appealing to their main methods of profit.
Another significant reason why headlines have become a major focus of these institutions is the fast-paced nature of news nowadays. In an era where millions of people get their news from Twitter, news outlets have come to realize that a headline is what people immediately read and grasp. Headlines are also what is shared on social media and text messages. In other words, if publications have anything significant they want to say in this day and age, a headline is where it should be placed.
With all of this in mind, the main issue with sensationalized headlines is that they are often misconstrued, unrepresentative, or flat out wrong. Consider headlines about COVID-19 breakthrough cases. When headlines display phrases like “5,000 vaccinated people still got COVID” or “thousands of breakthrough cases,” they are leaving out necessary and significant contextual information, such as the proportion of breakthrough cases or the population size from which the data was derived. Through this phrasing, publications may get some additional clicks, but they also spread misinformation and panic.
So should news outlets stop sensationalizing their headlines? It’s hard to say. On the one hand, it’s extremely effective at achieving their goals, such as getting clicks and sparking discussion. After all, Fox News’ headline got me to not only read their article but even to write about it. On the other hand, the desire to gain a new subscription to their magazine is nothing compared to the potentially harmful effects of a misrepresentative or provoking headline, especially in an age where media is instantaneously shared. In any case, be wary of these headlines in today’s complex system of information delivery.