Clickbait Titles Damage Trust In Journalism

Opinion

By Sara Momin, Assistant Community & World News Editor

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After the external threat lockdown a few weeks ago, 71 Republic, an independent news source, published an article regarding a possible cover-up led by Westwood officials. The article suggested the idea that a gun had been shot on campus, contrasting Principal Mario Acosta’s statement that there had been no threat on campus. With the lack of information being publicly revealed about this event, many students shared the article racking up over 10,000 views. While the credibility of the sight is questionable, due to the author’s lack of fact-checking, as well as a lack of eyewitnesses, the virality of the article creates concern. Students shared the article on many different social media platforms, such as Snapchat, Instagram, as well as on multiple group chats, without verifying the source or even reading the content of the article.

The viral nature of this questionable piece of information shows the volatile nature of the information we receive in this day and age. With a simple clickbait title, parents and students alike were fooled into believing this website was completely verified and true. And when the information was proven to be questionable, the same groups were quick to criticize the system of journalistic integrity, claiming the fault of the school, instead of the reader. While the responsibility should be on the news association to maintain facts, in this age of “fake news,” it is now the responsibility of the reader to inquire for the truth.

This is not only an issue about journalism in high schools, as all news sites have been affected by this age of social media. There is a variance in the trustworthiness of news organizations, and readers can no longer blindly trust the news like they used to. In recent years, especially with the emergence of social media, new news sites have emerged that utilize clickbait titles to gain a following, instead of accurately reporting events that occur. We are fed this false information constantly, and we have become so numb to this constant access that we fail to verify information before continuing the cycle.

While readers do need to change their mindset into a more intellectual criticism of the sources they read, journalists additionally require changes to their attitudes towards the criterion of publishing a story. Although engaging headlines are necessary in a business standpoint, journalists need to ensure that they are not sacrificing the integrity of their story and news site. Clickbait has already decreased the integrity of news sites, even verified ones, and reporters are no longer reporting on the miniscule things, instead relying on controversial stories to gain popularity.

Regarding 71 Republic, we can truly see the harm of using clickbait titles. The article in question gained 10,000 views and caused parents and students to worry about safety unecessarly. This concern would have not even occurred if the website would have used strong clickbait that contrasted from the ambiguity of the story’s context. While the website prides itself on delivering the truth, the content of the website and the apparent lack of verification of sources tell a different story, one that is dangerous for students who may not know the difference between a credible and non-credible news source.

This prominent example really highlights the message that students need to be cautious about the information they choose to believe. Teenagers, one of the groups that uses the internet the most, are the first line of defense against false viral information. Young students have been taught how to navigate the web and they have a decent understanding of what credible sources are. However, this may not be true for older audiences, who may not have experience with false information online.

As journalism itself enters a new era of digital prowess, it’s integrity is under question by those who generalize multiple types of news companies into a single category, without considering the differences. Clickbait titles have taken advantage of the trust readers have developed over decades of honest reporting and journalists now have to fight to maintain their credibility and positions. However, we are no longer living in an age where journalism is valued, let alone profitable, and it is up to the public to ensure that these sites maintain their honest reputation in the almost Space-Race like competition of profit margins and shares.