Debunking "fake news" and clickbait titles


If you've been on social media this past week, you might have seen titles resembling "NASA Spots 'Potentially Hazardous' Asteroid Rapidly Approaching Earth" or "Largest Planet-Killer Asteroid To Approach Earth This Month Arriving On Saturday" pop up every now and then.

Said posts usually only contain the title, a picture of the potential deadly threat and a link to an article.

Clicking on the link and reading the article, you will most likely find out that we're not gonna die this weekend after all, despite what the title conveyed...

Seeing all these "news" broadcasters and publishers post things like that all over the internet made me want to write about this type of fake news/fake advertisement/clickbait titles that are being used more and more to generate clicks, visits on their websites and, therefore, money in their pockets.

Spreading fear and scaring people is literally a business model today, and it's being used by more and more companies.

 

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I don't want to focus this post on the asteroid story, but since it started it all, let me just summarise quickly what happened with it:

YES, 163373 (2002 PZ39) is a very big asteroid that could destroy an entire continent BUT it was expected to pass 6 MILLION kilometers (3.5 million miles) away (it's close for an astrophysicist, but don't worry, it's still extremely far).
YES, 163373 (2002 PZ39) is flying very fast BUT it's as fast as any other random asteroid you could think of.
YES, it did fly by this morning and we're all still alive :)

 

Now that this is out of the way, back to the main content.

 

A 2014 study by the Media Insight Project showed that almost 60% of people only read the headlines and not the article most of the times. Science Post proved it even more in 2016 when they created a post titled "Study: 70% of Facebook users only read the headline of science stories before commenting.". The post contained a link to an article filled only with "lorem ipsum" content (latin gibberish used as text placeholder by designers and developers). 46,000 people shared the post, proving the headline to be true...

While this example can seem funny, this is where this clickbait practice gets dangerous. People relaying fake (or incomplete) information, at a time where such information travels at the speed of light, makes it harder for real information to spread, for real knowledge, real science, to be accepted by the masses. And this is how we end up with a society made up of millions of climate change deniers, flat earthers and people who think Bitcoin is only used to buy drugs and finance terrorism.

 

The global access to actual knowledge on any topic has never been easier and faster than it is today with the internet, but unfortunately, same goes for misinformation.

 

All that to say please, don't stop at the headlines, read the articles and, even better, check the listed sources. When an image shared on social media seems weird, remember that there are ways to find out if it has been altered. Some groups also exist, such as FactCheck.org, specialising in fact checking what is globally relayed.

 

Thanks for reading!

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PierreL
PierreL

French video editor, wildlife photographer, amateur space junkie, sports and history buff and crypto enthusiast.


Pierre's Miscellaneous Corner
Pierre's Miscellaneous Corner

I write about things I like unrelated to photography or videography, such as crypto, personal finance, traveling, sports, space, my fight against pollution, consumerism and waste, and online privacy and accessibility.

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