inclusive language, linguistic anthropology

The discriminatory power of clickbait

So much writing about discrimination — and clickbait writing is especially guilty — ends up reinforcing the very issue it discusses. The problem is almost always the headlines.

By presenting something as ‘shocking’ or ‘unbelievable,’ headlines make claims about their readership.

Consider one typical headline: “Wharton study shows the shocking results when women and minorities email their professors.” It might seem reasonable at first glance. But who finds this result shocking? Not women, minorities, or minority women. Appalling, yes; shocking, no.

Headlines are universalizing — they present their contents as true. And that means that disagreeing with them positions you outside their intended readership. Headlines that contain value judgments make disagreement more likely. A purely descriptive headline, on the other hand, doesn’t suffer from this problem. What if it had said, “Wharton study shows professors are less likely to respond to women and people of color”? There’s nothing to disagree with when a headline presents facts as facts.

Second-person (‘you’) headlines are particularly notorious. “The stuff about the Oscars and race you probably hadn’t considered. And really should.” Who’s you? If you’re Black and sick and tired of never seeing anyone who looks like you on that stage, probably hadn’t considered might not make you feel like you want (or need) to read this piece.

I could go on for ages with the bad ones, but here’s a few good ones instead:

Leave your best and worst in the comments!


One thought on “The discriminatory power of clickbait

  1. I enjoyed the “Male and female coworkers switched email signatures, faced sexism.” article that you linked to in this post. As a student, I often find that my views and opinions are overlooked because I am a female, while my male peers with the exact same comments get praised- even by other women. The number of times I have been called “bossy,” or “too opinionated” or a “feminist b****” is astounding and, to be frank, disheartening. I’m relieved people are doing actual tests on this and using their platforms to prove to the majority that this DOES happen and it inhibits the life of every woman involved.
    Thank you!


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