Though it’s not an entirely new phenomenon, headline skimming has most certainly increased in the social media era. Who the hell has time to read every article someone posts on Facebook? Most of the time, it’s sufficient to read the headline, check out the brief article preview description, look at the attached image and move on. Even if you aren’t trying to be a headline skimmer, your brain is going to pick up bits and pieces of what you see.
And since many of us get the majority of our news from Facebook, this can be a problem. Especially considering Facebook lets you edit articles’ headlines and preview descriptions.
Here’s what I’m talking about.
Take this article from Business Insider with the headline “How Mark Zuckerberg helps his friend, the CEO of $10 billion Dropbox.” Other than the creepy photo of Zuck, not a real showstopper of a headline.
Now, here’s what I can do with that article.
Basically, Facebook lets people edit the headlines surrounding article links they post because Facebook is not always 100% accurate when it comes to auto-generating them. But if someone wants to pull something and misrepresent articles’ content, it’s that easy.
That could all be changing, however. Facebook says it’s looking into changing this feature because its “automatic rendering tech” has improved over the years. Here’s what a spokesperson told The Huffington Post:
We’ve improved our automatic rendering technology so that most of the time, the link sharing preview does generate a title and description that accurately reflect what people want to share. As a result, we’re considering changing this feature to better align with how people share links today and to help ensure that publishers’ content is not misrepresented.
HuffPo points to a real-life example of this, when actor/comedian D.L. Hughley shared an article that had its headline altered. The original article, a HuffPo story titled “Bristol Palin Announces She’s Pregnant”, had been altered to read “Bristol Palin Announces She’s Pregnant By A Black Man”. This led to some really quality Facebook posts, as you can imagine.
The feature allowing for headline editing is useful. Especially when you really want to share something but Facebook won’t display everything properly. But it does have the ability to be abused. Easily. Hopefully Facebook can find a way to solve the latter while keeping some of the editing functionality intact.