Friday, July 19

The Quad: Clickbait isn’t new – tips for spotting fake/sensational news

Headlines are designed to grab attention, but they can lose complete accuracy in the process. (Creative Commons photo by Sollok29 via Wikimedia Commons)

Headlines are designed to grab attention, but they can lose complete accuracy in the process. (Creative Commons photo by Sollok29 via Wikimedia Commons)


I don’t even have to say a name for his face to pop into your head. Trump’s tweets are charged with a certain degree of ignorance and anger that makes it difficult to mistake them for anyone else’s. The emphasis placed on “fake news” is also a giveaway.

The more we as a country progress into his presidency, the more confusion I see between what things like fake news and clickbait really are. Although the two are prominent in contemporary media and are are related, they’re also entirely different and it’s imperative we learn how to distinguish between them.

Clickbait is defined as “something (such as a headline) designed to make readers want to click on a hyperlink especially when the link leads to content of dubious value or interest.” In other words, it’s the overdramatic, hyperbolic headline that grabs your eye and makes you believe the world is really ending.

Unfortunately, I don’t think media outlets understand how adversely clickbait affects the public. In the late 1800s, the concept of “yellow journalism” rose to fame, prioritizing “sensationalism over facts.” Today we seem to fare no better. The other day my friend read aloud a headline, stating that “Donald Trump Expands Abortion Ban to All Health Aid Groups.” At first glance, the headline freaked me out too.

But unlike my friend, I decided to click on the article and read its contents. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t about Trump banning abortion. I pray that never happens. The article instead was about Trump cutting funding for international groups that perform abortions and provide information about abortions.

There’s also fake news, which is different from clickbait. Fake news is prevalent in both conservative and liberal media alike and can be defined as a story that “has no basis in reality.” It can be fabricated by political figures such as Kellyanne Conway and served to the media with daunting titles such as the Bowling Green Massacre. It’s meant to justify other lies and worry people into believing them. Fake news is, essentially, fake.

So how can we as college students prevent ourselves from falling into this pit of falsity? You have to get educated. Be aware of who may be feeding you lies and who is actually informing you of the truth – in other words, don’t take everything people like Kellyanne Conway say at face value.

On top of that, you need to make sure you’re getting your news from an accurate source. According to data from a media credibility survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, CNN’s credibility rating was 42 percent in 1998, but fell to 28 percent in 2006 and rose slightly to 30 percent in 2008. Similarly, ABC News and CBS News also had low ratings in 2008, of 24 percent and 22 percent respectively. On the other hand, ratings for NPR rose from 19 percent in 1998 to 27 percent in 2008.

I believe that the root cause of this is the extensive media coverage we are exposed to and the abundance of sources we can gain our information from. In the past there were fewer avenues for us to be exposed to media. One scroll through Facebook today and I already see more media articles than I would see if I turned on the TV ten years ago.

[RELATED: Austin Pink: UCLA students should require students to take a course on media literacy]

This greater amount of media means less credibility. Less attention is paid to each individual media source and fact checking is overlooked more often. Therefore, we need to be more media literate. It’s important to keep some things in mind when reading any news headline or article.

  • Don’t take every statement from every figure at face value – if you hear something surprising, do an internet search for information from a credible source or multiple sources.
  • Media headlines are clickbait galore, so make sure to thoroughly read an article first to see if there is actually truth to the headline
  • Read articles from a variety of sources – don’t always stick to one news source. By exploring a multitude of media, you increase your chances of receiving unbiased information

The political climate of the United States today is extremely controversial. On top of that, the media isn’t doing a great job of providing the public with accurate facts and information to educate them properly. At a time when it seems as if though one can’t worry anymore, the media finds different ways to instill fear and tension in people. We as young college students should not fall prey to their antics, as we are more than capable of properly educating ourselves with the real facts.

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