Update: Please note the date when this article was originally published, explanation below.
An alarming trend I’ve noticed in this “business” of political commentary has been the habit by far too many individuals who choose to read headlines, then form their entire opinion on an issue based on those headlines rather than reading and understanding the full story.
I recently wrote an article where I purposely tried to create this phenomenon. In this article I created a headline which seemed like something that would trigger a response, wrote 1-2 paragraphs of a fake story, then went on to explain that the story was fake and why it’s important that people read articles instead of simply reading headlines.
My prediction was that about 30-40% of the Facebook responses would come from people who hadn’t read the article.
Well—I was wrong. It was actually more like 80-85% of the comments I saw on Facebook were made by people who never bothered to read it, instead choosing to react to the headline itself.
So at that moment all of those individuals who decided to just read the headline had formed a “fact” off a headline which was completely made up.
Then even more recently I wrote a partial satire piece poking holes in the flawed logic felt by many that President Obama is no different then President Bush because he supports a handful of the same policies. The title of this article was Poll: Many Americans Believe President Obama is No Different Than a Killer Whale.
Yet, even with that ridiculous headline, I would estimate about half of the comments I saw on Facebook were people who thought this poll was real. One would think with a headline that absurd, if someone was going to comment, they would at least have taken the time to read the article to find out what the heck was actually going on.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Had they taken 30 seconds they would have realized the headline was completely fake and saw the real point of the article.
And there is always a point to what I post. In this case, it’s exposing just how easily manipulated people can be, and hopefully encouraging you to question and look into everything before choosing to form an opinion on it. Because this is how the domino falls and leads to falsities being spread so easily as truth — once you choose to take a snapshot of “facts” based only on headlines and then use those “facts” to share your opinions with others, then those blatant falsehoods become harder and harder to stop and correct.
It’s truly an alarming trend. An entire population of people that politicians and political groups know will only read headlines, creating “facts” based on those cleverly written headlines. The article (or television ad) might be pure garbage, loaded with biased lies and misinformation, yet millions of people are shaping their entire political ideology based on a handful of “SHOCKING” or controversial words that are specifically designed to manipulate people.
We talk often in this country about how bad the media has gotten, how bad our politicians are and how corrupt our government is–well, those arguments are valid.
But let’s look at facts:
- Our media is driven by dollars which are generated by what we click and read.
- Our politicians are elected by us.
- Our government is controlled by the politicians we’ve elected.
If we demanded better information from our media, they would provide it. If we voted for better politicians we’d have better individuals representing us. And if we had better politicians running our government it would be far less corrupt.
All of this starts with having a more informed public. But that stands absolutely no chance at happening when millions of Americans continue basing their entire set of “factual ideological beliefs” on skillfully crafted headlines which are often highly misleading or completely inaccurate.
So when I see stories about a man exposing himself on a subway getting tens of thousands of views, while a well researched article on climate change gets less than 2,000—it’s ironic when I see many of those who clicked on the subway article (but not the climate change piece) complaining about our country “going down the wrong path.”
That is the wrong path.
And while we all give into “guilty pleasures” from time to time (and there’s nothing wrong with that) we cannot sit there and continue to allow ourselves to have our entire system of beliefs built off only headlines.
Because trust me, the big wealthy corporate players trying to corrupt our government and manipulate policies to favor them know these trends and know what works. In fact, they’re counting on you developing your beliefs in the laziest ways possible. Create the “SHOCKING” or misleading headline, count on the readers never bothering to actually read the article or research the information to see if it’s credible, and boom–whatever “fact” they want people to believe suddenly becomes reality for millions.
Which is how “death panels” falsely became part of the Affordable Care Act, “birthers” got traction and millions of people still believe the U.N. is trying to pass a treaty which would force Americans to give up their guns.
We must stop allowing ourselves to be deceived by those who are counting on deception to get something they want.
Because at the end of the day, the media is going to give us exactly what we watch, share, click or listen to. The question is, what’s that going to be? Millions of Americans assuming “facts” based off a “SHOCKING” headline or citizens actually making the effort to try and be better informed?
That decision is going to be up to all of us.
*Update: We wanted to emphasize the original date of this article to highlight how, even over four years ago, the issue of fake news was still very real and the tactics these frauds use to push it have been around for quite a long time. While some have acted like fake news being spread on social media is some sort of new phenomenon, we here at Forward Progressives have been talking about it pretty much since this site first launched in early 2013.