A funny thing happened to me last week: a blog post I wrote went viral. Wait, I need to amend that. What I really meant was a blog post headline I wrote went viral.
Last week was a big week on the interwebs for me. A little blog post I wrote titled Broccoli is bad for you, like, really toxic bad attained a life of its own. Over 10,000 shares on Facebook and 220,000 page reads later, I have learnt a lot about how people digest their nutrition and health information online.
Intended to be a satirical piece on how nutrition research can be corrupted to suit the agenda of someone building a case why a certain food is harmful for you, it seems many people didn’t make it past the headline. Consequence of this: many comments of disbelief, amazement, and even some of joy from the vegetably challenged.
This headline is true; this one isn’t
Headlines grab our attention. It is the first impression that sets the tone for what we expect to read onwards. A headline can affect what existing knowledge is activated in our mind. If headline content agrees with your world view, you are more likely to read on and absorb more information.
A headline claiming broccoli is toxic is incredibly jarring to read, as it goes against almost everything you think you know about what is healthy. Any wonder many people stopped reading there and irately hit up the comments box.
The headline was intentionally misleading only to illustrate a point. Yet picture if my intentions were nefarious. What if I really wanted to prove that broccoli is a toxic food? All as a clever way of creating controversy and driving traffic to my site to perhaps….sell you something. Perhaps something like this.
Bad news headlines connect with us. The average click-through rate on headlines with negative superlatives is over 50 percent higher than headlines written in the positive. Compare: ‘Why eating 5 different coloured vegetables a day is good for your health’ with ‘How your current diet is giving you cancer’. I rest my case.
Read more than the headlines
So the wrap up message here is that it is a normal human trait with our distracted attention spans to be influenced by headlines. Many people will go no further than the headline, and more still will be lucky to make it through one screen of text.
My broccoli post was my first foray into well-intentioned ‘click bait’, and is likely not something I’ll be repeating any time soon. There is enough confusion about food and nutrition already. I’ll leave the deceptive marketing and biased agendas to those selling you books, 12-week lifestyle programs and affiliated products.
Consider the amount of nutrition and health messages you’re absorbing daily from the media and through your social media feeds. Some of it is good; a lot of it emerges from deep dark rabbit holes of woo. How do you know what to believe? Just read the last few paragraphs of my Toxic Broccoli post. The link even takes you straight to the relevant bits, and you can bypass the headline entirely.