I feel like I just wrote something similar to this. Oh yeah, I did:
“Of the top 10 shared articles, scientists found that three quarters were either misleading or included some false information. Only three were considered “highly credible.” Some lacked context of the issue, exaggerated the harms of a potential threat, or overstated research findings. Many writers either twisted data or simply couldn’t properly interpret it. Others, it seems, had an agenda.”
Now, the article cites a specifically egregious example of a reporter who was clearly biased, yet managed to get the article shared and shared and shared all over the place, because it was aimed at a group of people who simply wanted to believe it. But, more often than not, what really happens isn’t quite as obvious, or agenda-driven. Sometimes, a website is just trying to get people to share and click.
The Health Feedback team believes the high share of misleading reporting is partially due to sensationalized headlines that grab readers’ attention. More balanced pieces lack clickbait framing. “This means that the general public is more likely to come into contact with misleading information than accurate ones on social media,” says the research team.
When you pair a click-bait headline with a population that is very likely to “share” something based on the headline, without reading the context, this is dangerous. And, let’s face it, headline writers know this. I know this. I think about it when crafting headlines here, though I do at least try to be realistic and not just be another click-bait factory. Never the less, marketers know this, and they know that if they can shock us, we’ll hit share.
False stories often prey on emotions like fear, disgust, or surprise, and people are more likely to share what moves them. That it’s novel makes it all the more appealing.
So, the next time an online article is being shared around by your Facebook friends about something that is massively unhealthy and appalling, you may want to pause and go read the article. See if it’s actually linked to any actual research, or if it is completely overstating the results of the study. It happens all the time with people who simply don’t understand the research, let alone those who are being malicious.
And then, go back to my advice from that earlier post: Remember that nothing works for everyone, and there is no one cure for mental health issues specifically. If you see something that you want to try, feel free. But, if it doesn’t work for you, don’t assume that make you hopeless. We are all more complicated than that.