Why do social media users choose to read clickbait stories? We collected data from Italian Facebook users and found that older and less educated readers were more likely to select clickbait stories.
Luca, Mario, Kevin Munger, Jonathan Nagler, and Joshua A. Tucker. “You Won’t Believe Our Results! But They Might: Heterogeneity in Beliefs about the Accuracy of Online Media.” Journal of Experimental Political Science, (2021): 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1017/xps.2020.41
Jan 20, 2021
Area of Study
“Clickbait” media has long been espoused as an unfortunate consequence of the rise of digital journalism. But little is known about why readers choose to read clickbait stories. Is it merely curiosity, or might voters think such stories are more likely to provide useful information? We conduct a survey experiment in Italy, where a major political party enthusiastically embraced the esthetics of new media and encouraged their supporters to distrust legacy outlets in favor of online news. We offer respondents a monetary incentive for correct answers to manipulate the relative salience of the motivation for accurate information. This incentive increases differences in the preference for clickbait; older and less educated subjects become even more likely to opt to read a story with a clickbait headline when the incentive to produce a factually correct answer is higher. Our model suggests that a politically relevant subset of the population prefers Clickbait Media because they trust it more.
“Clickbait” media has long been accepted as an unfortunate consequence of the rise of digital journalism. However, there is little knowledge about why readers choose to read clickbait stories. Is it merely curiosity, or might voters think such stories are more likely to provide useful information?
To try to answer this question, we collect data from a sample of Italian Facebook users through a paid advertisement. Although not representative of the general population, this sample is representative of the population of interest: people who click on Facebook ads. During this survey, we offer respondents money in exchange for correct answers to raise the relative salience of their motivation for accuracy.
First, we find that the “clickbait style” of content is preferred by people who are older, less educated, and more likely to support the Italian populist government. This reinforces results from the US. Our results also show that people who prefer clickbait headlines do so because they think they’re more accurate. The standard journalistic style, which is designed to signal high-credibility reporting, is perceived that way by young and educated individuals. However, a sizable portion of the Italian population (as well as key constituents of the current governing coalition) feel the opposite about this style: they trust it less. This is a serious problem and one that is unlikely to be addressed by recent attempts by journalistic institutions to signal article quality and credibility to their readers.