“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.
Scholars have debated whether social media platforms, by allowing users to select the information to which they are exposed, may lead people to isolate themselves from viewpoints with which they disagree, thereby serving as political “echo chambers.” We investigate hypotheses concerning the circumstances under which Twitter users who communicate about elections would engage with (a) supportive, (b) oppositional, and (c) mixed political networks. Based on online surveys of representative samples of Italian and German individuals who posted at least one Twitter message about elections in 2013, we find substantial differences in the extent to which social media facilitates exposure to similar versus dissimilar political views. Our results suggest that exposure to supportive, oppositional, or mixed political networks on social media can be explained by broader patterns of political conversation (i.e., structure of offline networks) and specific habits in the political use of social media (i.e., the intensity of political discussion). These findings suggest that disagreement persists on social media even when ideological homophily is the modal outcome, and that scholars should pay more attention to specific situational and dispositional factors when evaluating the implications of social media for political communication.