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The clickbait future of news and our crisis of consensus

The clickbait future of news and our crisis of consensus

It’s often hard to distinguish between what has come to be known as “clickbait”—which according to Dictionary.com is “a sensationalized headline or piece of text on the internet designed to entice people to follow a link to an article on another web page”—and simply a clever headline.

What irks me about true clickbait headlines is that the story often contradicts or fails to mention the claim made in the headline. Of course, if the entire story is merely fabricated or exaggerated in ways that obscure what is actually going on, that is a problem, too.

News organizations are no strangers to sensationalized headlines. In fact, the newspaper business invented an entire category for what is called clickbait, namely, tabloids. The often repeated adage that “if it bleeds, it leads” is reaffirmed on a daily basis.

(Tabloids are, of course, named after the tabloid format that many sensationalizing newspapers adopt. The most recognizable newspaper format is called broadsheet which is used by major daily papers around the world. For a very short explanation of newspaper sizes, you can click here.)

Now, adult readers should generally be left to sort things out for themselves. They can learn to trust and mistrust news sources from experience and weigh the headlines and information provided accordingly. I know many people are very concerned about the kind of fantasies offered on the Internet that lead otherwise sane people to disconnect from any shared reality and even resort to violence. That is certainly a problem, and it requires an entire book to explain and respond to. I don’t plan to deal with it here.

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