The Rise of Clickbait and Propaganda in Digital Media and Fake News
A lot of what you read online, especially in your social media feeds, appears to be true while it actually is not. Digital media and fake news became prominent during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Fake news encompasses news, stories or hoaxes that are created to deliberately misinform or deceive readers. Digital media has meant that real and fictional stories are now presented in ways make it difficult to tell the two apart.
Continue reading to discover how clickbait and propaganda have helped to spread fake news across digital media platforms.
Clickbait refers to the headline or leading words of a post that is written to attract attention and encourage visitors to click a target link. Digital media and fake news helps to aid publishers of clickbait by creating a curiosity gap, or the gap between what we know and what we want to know. Clickbait functions as an online cliffhanger that poses headlines that pique your curiosity and lead you to click the link and continue reading.
Sensationalist headlines are used to grab attention and drive click-throughs to the publisher website. These headlines use odd, amazing or suspenseful phrases that induce curiosity and entice people to want to know more; the more outrageous, the better. An example of a sensationalist headline could be, “Man Tries to Hug a Wild Lion, You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!”. When reading this, people either assume the lion attacked the man or they conclude that nothing happened; either way, readers want to know the outcome.
Digital media and fake news has also given rise to the use of propaganda. As a form of persuasion, propaganda is meant to further an agenda by evoking a response from the audience. Although it has been around for centuries, the Internet is only the latest means of communication used to spread misinformation. The success of any propaganda campaign will ultimately be based on how much it affects the real world.
In 2019, Freedom House, a nonprofit group that tracks free speech online, reported that political leaders in 39 countries had employed people to shape online opinions. For example, leading up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Russia launched a tirade of political propaganda. Russia used digital media and fake news to exploit divisions in American society in order to tip the election in favor of Donald Trump. Prior to the election, they set up 30 Facebook pages targeting African-Americans. One example comes from a Facebook account called South United; a post pictured a confederate flag with the caption, ‘Heritage, not hate. The South will rise again’. The Russians targeted African-Americans more than any other group in an attempt to frighten them and suppress their votes.
The Internet has enabled a new way to publish, share and consume information and news. Because there is very little regulation on the web, fake news will be an issue for the foreseeable future.