Program on Democracy and the Internet

The (Null) Effects of Clickbait Headlines on Polarization, Trust and Learning

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“Clickbait” has become a dominant form of online media, with headlines designed to entice people to click becoming the norm. The propensity to consumer clickbait is not evenly distributed across relevant political demographics, so the present study presents the results of a pair of experiments: one conducted using Facebook ads that explicitly target people with a high preference for clickbait, the other using a sample recruited from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. We estimate subjects’ individual-level preference for clickbait, and randomly assign some to read clickbait or traditional headlines. We find that older people and non-Democrats have a higher “preference for clickbait,” but find no evidence that assignment to read clickbait headlines drives affective polarization, information retention or trust in media.


Kevin Munger, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Penn State University