SHOCKING! DID YOU READ this HEADLINE? Good, Now Please Read the Story


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.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and if you want to help me keep fighting Republican ignorance and the rise of white nationalism, please head over to my Patreon page as well.

*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.

Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.


Facebook comments

  • srsmith

    Back in the early 70’s a High School teacher taught me this lesson. He handed out a test to the class and told us we have 30 minutes to complete it and we could leave whenever we finished. He also added for us to read the instructions first. When I read the instructions they said to read through the entire test before answering the questions. This was the only instructions. Because everyone wanted to leave early they just started taking the test as fast as they could. I, knowing that someone is always trying to catch me, read the entire test. When I finished I took the test and gave it to the teacher and left. This was about 4 minutes after the test was handed out. One more person left right after I did. No one else got up and they couldn’t believe we were done. You see the last question on the test said ” If you followed the instructions and read the entire test before taking you can sign the bottom of this paper and leave early without answering any of the other questions.” So I learned to read through anything entirely because you never know what coming at the end.

    • winnona

      I don’t have a point to make; just wanted to say THIS story gave me a chuckle…thanks.

    • Shelley

      I know this test, have seen it, and plan to give it to my students on the last week of the school year (which, in this country, is in December). Many of my students can’t speak English and can barely read it, but they will know enough by the end of the year to understand how to read the directions. I will then make it a point to teach that if they don’t understand something, they need to re-read what they don’t understand a few times and then ask for help if they can’t understand it still. In life, in English learning, in anything. I can’t wait to give this test and see who doesn’t do what it says, lol.

    • Shari D.

      I went to 7 different schools between 1st grade and my Senior Year of high school. I saw that very same test at least a half dozen times by the time I graduated. I became one of the first ones done in each class after having seen it the first time! Of course, when one teacher has done it, word gets out, but one or two of them threw in a “Gotcha!” in the middle, so I still read quickly through all of it anyway! And I still read through everything, especially if it’s something that doesn’t look like it’s all it appears to be at first glance. And to my always suspicious mind, that’s everything!

  • Jay Diamond

    “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”

    H. L. Mencken

    It has always been this way, and it won’t change here.

  • LCamp

    This story reminds me of the time Boehner tweeted a link to an article about the ACA and said how terrible it is based on the headline. But he never actually read the story and I know this because it had very positive information about ObamaCare, making him look like the ass he is.

    • Amy Moon River

      Which time? There were several of them.

  • Aanna1123

    I was guilty of this in my new days on FB. LOL, partly because I didn’t know how to use FB and partly because I was stupid. Boy, did I get educated fast from people that knew how to use it. Thank goodness I had people to guide me on clicking on pictures and the articles headline! Looking back, I see how far I’ve come, double checking my sources and doing my own research! Great write ~ thank you.

  • Amy Moon River

    It’s the Cliff Notes effect. No one wants to read the whole thing, so they just read the Cliff Notes, or in this case, the title of the article.

  • Lesslie Michelle Garrett-Gunde

    I agree with Winnona. I also got a good giggle out of this. You really are brilliant sir. Carry on.

  • VERY good article – And I READ it. Heh. How many times have we heard that “Obama gave out Free Cell Phones” via the “Lifeline Program”? – If any of these people bothered to read the Lifeline Website, they would see that 1) It only deals with Land Line Phones and Gas and Electric and 2) It only offers a DISCOUNT, it does not in fact PAY these things. Even when shown the actual website that lays this out flat, they STILL believe that some woman got “32 Cell Phones from the Obama Lifeline Program”. Not to mention, the Lifeline Program was put into effect under Reagan, NOT Obama.

    • Shari D.

      Actually, it started out dealing with only landline phones, but was extended to cover a basic level of cell phone service after a period of time when cell phones had become much more accessible, less expensive and more reliable. I researched this myself some time ago when all those spurious “facts” about “Obamaphones” were being shouted about so vehemently by the “right” and I was sure it had to be ridiculous. So, I went and got the facts. However, I cannot quote specific dates off the top of my head, and if I leave this article to go find them, it will take too long for my phone to get back to it! And, yes, it’s a phone I pay for myself! LOL!

  • MC71

    So this was all about Miley showing sideboob, right? I mean, sort of, in a “Huffington Post really illustrates this” sort of way. Get the click. Write an over-the-top lead with a teasing head shot, and direct the reader to click another link, or two. Reader gives up, but remarks to friends how trashy Miley has become, an did you SEE that headline?

  • Connor Clay

    Posting articles with “shocking” (and I quote) headlines is just like posting videos on YouTube with thumbnails containing busty women, only to find out the video’s about something else. A cheap way to gather clicks. Thankfully, the YouTube staff saw through that and made an algorithm that tracks the views whether or not the viewer actually watched the video.

  • cyster

    word! I did have one friend that actually read your previous article when I posted it. Several who commented didn’t.

  • Kristen Callahan

    This initially made me angry because, there’s so much blather in it, in what I hope is “mock” opinion or onion. The choice is clear.

  • Dianne

    I am a little rusty on my history, but I seem to recall that in the early days of our country the government did not believe the citizens were educated enough to control themselves, so they created a Congress of educated people who could represent the best interests of everyone. Now it seems nothing has changed, because the citizens don’t educate themselves about the truth, and elect the “representatives” whose lies “sound” or “read” the best, not realizing that those representatives only represent their wealthy business donors.