Creating thumbnails with misleading information and sensationalising headlines distorting truth has become common practice on social media.

In order to gain ‘hits’ and attract attention, several websites and channels are using ‘clickbait’ headlines. But here is a piece of bad news for them – they may get a few hits for a clickbait thumbnail or misleading headline but that will not win them the trust of their readers.

A study done by a group of researchers has shown that the readers don’t fall for such tricks easily and that clickbait headlines significantly reduced the credibility of news items.

Vivek Kaushal, a research student at IIITH’s Cognitive Science research centre, has published findings of his study titled ‘Clickbait: Trust and Credibility of Digital News’ in ‘IEEE Transactions on Technology and Society’.

He and his supervisor Kavita Vemuri enlisted 200 participants (100 each from North America and India) and asked them to read through any two out of the six news articles given to them. Out of the six articles, three articles were given clickbait headlines and the other three non-clickbait headlines. “We found that clickbait headlines significantly reduced the credibility of news items,” Vivek said.

Quoting an earlier study, he said that the phenomenon of clickbait was not limited to the fringes of journalism. “It’s quite prevalent in the mainstream media as well. That’s why our findings have serious implications for the media houses,” he said.

In another research study—Clickbait’s Impact On Visual Attention-An Eye Tracker Study— Vivek and Kavita studied the impact of clickbait headlines on the visual attention paid by the readers to the articles.

The study has been accepted for 44th edition of CogSci2022, an annual conference organised by the Cognitive Science Society to be held in Toronto in July.

The study used an eye-tracker setup that analysed gaze-fixation from 60 participants recruited from IIIT-H campus here.

With attention measured via gaze fixation, the researchers found that an article with a clickbait headline received lesser visual attention than the same article with a non-clickbait headline. The clickbait articles did get the initial attention but the readers moved on quickly after gazing through the first few lines.

“No one really goes ahead and reads the entire article or spends too much time on one the with a clickbait headline,” Vivek said.

Hindi content

Interestingly, the English content online is relatively cleansed as artificial intelligence and machine learning models have been trained to detect the clickbait articles in the language.

However, it is not the same with the content being generated in Hindi. “There is no filtering, no optimisation happening and that’s because there isn’t enough research being done in that language,” he said.