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  • Albert M. Carter, M.Ed.

F*** this headline: Taken Out Of Context


The very first thing people see when searching for something is the headline which can determine an entire emotion for the reader or viewer. The headline helps for the reader or viewer to create an experience and know exactly what it is that they are looking for when reading the article or viewing the video. However, in a world full of clickbait and misleading information floating around cyberspace, this can be dangerous. Headlines not only change the way that people connect with reports, opinions, and video, it also changes the way they interpret, understand, and remember what was it was about.  

"All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them" - Galileo


In a recent discussion about the state of the world, I’ve found myself overwhelmed with the amount of information floating around with wildly inaccurate headlines that are not only misleading but sometimes totally false. My final straw was a recent misunderstanding with my cousin over my blog post, All Lives Matter? , I realized that there’s not only a large segment of the population that not only read just the headline but there's a large segment of the population that believes the headlines that they read. They simply form an opinion about an article based on the headline and use that headline as a summary of what the article is about or either as a deciding factor to actually read the article. My conversation with my cousin forced me to look at previous discussions (and full-on debates) that I’ve had with people face to face or via phone chats, text messages, video chats, group chats, social media, and emails to see how headline culture influences people’s thoughts. 


It’s common knowledge that first impressions go a long way. Not only is that applicable when meeting someone for the first time, but it also applies to a variety of situations and scenarios such as looking at a piece of art, a building, observing a person's living quarters for the first time, etc. headlines are no exception to the rule. However, the widely popular phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is full effect when dissecting an article or video solely on the headline. Things can be taken out of context pretty quickly. By simply creating awareness of distinct details or information, a headline can trigger a thought from your existing knowledge and change your emotion to a particular event, person, place, or situation. 


A writer’s or editor's way of creating a headline can help you to recall past experiences and help influence your way of thinking if you do decide to read the article. These slight influences can cause shifts in perception that can allow for problems to arise if the headline is false or even slightly misleading. In an age of clickbait, fake news, and misinformation taking the headline for face value without reading becomes a dangerous combination. We are at a moment in time where people are becoming less dependent on mainstream media and more dependent on word of mouth via their networks and communities. The more influence in their social groups one may have the more their word becomes valid.

"The undoubted shock, even disgust, provoked by the work is part of it's appeal" - Nicholas Serota

The goal for all headlines is to get people intrigued enough to read or watch what was written or recorded. Unfortunately, some headlines are made to deceive you and create a false narrative. The bias in the headlines usually creates a bias for the viewer, if they decide to view or read the article or video. The narrative that the headline creates influences your actual reading to reinforce what was actually communicated through the title. 


Misinformation and misdirection in headlines can lead to miscommunication of factual information causing people to develop their own theories and spread them to their personal networks. This can have several negative implications ranging from conspiracy theories to fake news being spread like wildfire. When you combine the headlines with social media being a driving tool of what is being communicated to the masses (also known as going viral) you must be able to look at the bigger picture and keep everything in context, which seems to be increasingly hard to do based on the amount of information being overshared. 


For diligent readers and viewers, such as myself, we tend to understand that misleading headlines cause damage, especially when it’s subtle because it mixes the fact with an opinion which sometimes creates inaccurate biases and false narratives. When it's blatant, it's easy for the viewer to comb through the article or video picking out inaccuracies. While a headline may provoke a reaction to get people to read or view, we must keep things in context so we can dissect the information for ourselves. As a writer, I know the challenges of creating a piece of literature that is interesting and accurate but it's always better to be boring and right than exciting and wrong. Moral of the story, F*** the headline, read the article, and watch the entire video. 

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