Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Betteridge's Law of Headlines

I ran across an interesting item the other day in an article from Mental Floss titled, Ten Rules, Laws, and Theorems You Should Know. I'd already heard of some of the listed rules/laws/theorems, particularly Godwin's Law*, about which I've written before, but one of them was particularly appropriate to our current obsession with news, both real and "fake"**.

Betteridge's Law of Headlines simply states that, "Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no," and the article goes on to explain that,

"If the answer is yes, then the headline would simply make that declaration. A question in a headline implies that either (1) The writer doesn't have enough facts to be sure of the answer, (2) The question makes the available information more sensational, or (3) The writer is honestly just asking for the reader’s input."

I think that Betteridge's Law of Headlines applies directly to our overwrought 24-hour news cycle, and the need to draw in readers/listeners/watchers by any means necessary so that advertising revenues can be kept up. A headline framed as a question implies that there is more to the story, and that tantalizing details are coming if one reads on ... which is almost never the case***.

There is also an academic version of Betteridge's Law of Headlines which applies to scholarly articles. It's called Hinchcliffe's Law (more properly, perhaps, Hinchcliffe's Paradox), and you can read all about it here.

Don't thank me for bringing this to your attention ... it's all part of my ongoing effort to help you cope with the bizarre world of alternative facts and blissful ignorance.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1."

** For purposes of discussion, "fake news" can be defined as "news reporting that contradicts what the reader or listener is convinced is true."

*** In current slang, a "nothingburger."

† No, "paradox" does not mean "two waterfowl."


eViL pOp TaRt said...

That's a good rule to remember.

I wonder if there is a law for headlines that seem to address people, like "No, Mr. Trump, that is not a good policy." Some of the opinin purveyors of the WaPo tend to do that.

Mike said...

Alternet is a good example of exaggerated headlines. Some of their articles are good but the headlines try to pump them up way to much.

Hell Hound said...

Those are teaser headlines. Used to gull people into reading a nothing burger.