In June 2016, researchers at Columbia University and the French National Institute published a study concluding that nearly 60 percent of links shared on social media are never clicked and read — that people share news stories based on headlines alone.
And what does this have to do with asteroids hitting the earth? In July 2016, Yackler Magazine published an article bearing the clickbait title, “Scientists Say Giant Asteroid Could Hit Earth Next Week, Causing Mass Devastation”. While the first two paragraphs of the article were dedicated to the terrifying doomsday event, the author eventually conceded that “nah,” she was “totally messing with you”:
Scientists have discovered a massive asteroid that is on course to hit the Earth next week, and are scrambling to find a way to divert the object.
The asteroid has been named 2016-FI and measures approximately 1 km across. If it strikes a populated area is could wipe out entire cities and potentially devastate an entire continent or … nah. I’m totally messing with you. There’s no asteroid (at least not about to strike next week).
After the clickbait title and a little misinformation, Yackler Magazine provided some quotes from the study and explained that the article was published as a sort of experiment of their own. The article concluded with a call to its readers to use a color word while commenting to show that they had read the article:
While many readers passed the test with, well, flying colors, others shared the article about a giant asteroid heading toward earth on Facebook:
“People are more willing to share an article than read it,” study co-author Arnaud Legout said in a statement. “This is typical of modern information consumption. People form an opinion based on a summary, or a summary of summaries, without making the effort to go deeper.”
To reiterate: there’s no giant asteroid heading to earth, and the frightening title was a “social experiment” to see how many people actually read the article.