Intercultural Extraneity

Credibility and trust are not built through clickbaits

This post applies Mike Caulfield’s strategies of web literacy to examine the reliability of web content, and is followed by reflections on web sources.

“Global Warming Hits Sahara!”

Text reads: Sahara Desert covered in 15 inches SNOW as freak weather blankets sand dunes HEAVY snow has covered the Sahara Desert in…

There are a number of things we want to talk about regarding this post. But let’s ask two questions to start:
Without clicking through, what can you tell us about this source? Is it a newspaper, journal, blog? Does it have a news-centric agenda or a political one?

Is this really an image of snow in the Sahara? We’ve copied the picture below for you to use your moves on.”

Regarding the source, based on the link, I would say this is a blog. As for its agenda, I would say it’s a news-centric one, because, to me, this seems like a minor Blogspot, which wouldn’t really profit from a political agenda.
In my opinion, this is, in fact, an image of snow in the Sahara. The method I’ve used to check this claim is Google Images search – I downloaded the picture and then uploaded it to this search engine, in the hope it would lead me to some other news sources with the same picture/story. Just as I have expected, I have come across this picture on various news websites, some of which are quite reputable – e.g. BBC news. Although it seems like a suspicious claim, it turns out that there were actually snowstorm blankets in the desert of Sahara.

That is why, if something seems sketchy, it is good to be aware of the methods and techniques you can apply to make sure it is not a fabricated clickbait.

Why do we trust some sources more than others?

Ever since the first news media saw the light of day, there has been the infamous question – how do you determine whether a news source is reputable, or a news story reliable? In an age of declining old major media and the rise of the new ad hoc social media postings, it is a real challenge to judge the credibility of even some of the widely reputable newspapers. What we, as passive consumers, are often blind to is the fact that news writers also have their background, their ideologies, and worldviews which can largely influence their perception of the story they are supposed to tell.

There can be many different criteria for distinguishing credible news stories from advocacies written to look like news stories, which makes learning how to be critical of news discourse a real challenge. Finding reputable and convincing news stories can often be a rather demanding task, but, in my opinion, people tend to trust those pieces which cover multiple perspectives in a story, being fair as possible to each perspective, aspiring to be objective and use vivid imagery when possible. In today’s world, almost overrun by tabloid newspapers, it is quite hard to find a news report which is of high quality and done professionally.

Another factor that has made this existing situation even worse is, of course, the ongoing pandemic of Covid-19. It has to a large extent affected trust of the readers, as there have been many sensational “fake news” whose aim was to spread panic throughout a population and help certain politicians achieve their goals. As a result, a large number of people have lost their trust in media in general, both traditional, old-fashioned newspapers and online media postings. Nonetheless, my ultimate advice on how to know whether a news source is trustworthy would be – cross-check the information using at least one other reliable source – the main newspapers or news agencies, check out the credibility of the individuals quoted in the article and other stories covering the same subject. It is of utmost importance to be a conscious news consumer.

Why do you think that newspapers have such a good reputation for truthfulness and care compared to the average online site (or vice versa)? What sort of economic incentives has a newspaper historically had to get things right that a clickbait online site might not have had?

In this age of digital culture, clickbait has become a synonym for online journalism, making it the main means to grab the readers’ attention, luring them into reading the rest of the article. Sensationalized headlines, tempting people to click on the link of the news story, have a very simple background objective – the more people click on the link, the more money the news agency earns from advertising. In the old days, news publishers had no idea whether people were reading about the government and the latest news about global politics, or just the sports section, whereas, nowadays, many publishers have realized they can get a rather nice economic incentive by using sensationalism in their story-telling.

By using such headlines, editors often leave out a crucial part of the story, making it psychologically compelling, as readers’ brains start to crave that information. In today’s world, there are many economic benefits that have revolutionized the media market, making the emergence of numerable news outlets possible. All those news outlets nowadays have a larger diversity of viewpoints and reporting methods. Also, emerging as a news outlet today is much more cost-effective than it used to be back in the day, when news producers had to deal with infrastructure costs, gathering a team of well-trained and professional journalists and fact-checkers. Moreover, they had to build a loyal readership, ensuring a stable number of monthly/weekly subscriptions. Nowadays, all those barriers are gone, making it easier than ever to enter the media market.

However, despite all that, many people believe that traditional newspapers have a much better reputation for truthfulness and care compared to online sources, simply because of all the reasons I have mentioned above – back in the day, they had to put much more effort into writing a news story, and it wasn’t strictly oriented towards money-making through clickbait headlines.


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