Using outrage as a draw reduces credibility and audience trust, according to new research from the University of Texas at Austin.


Clickbait Content May Not Be Click-worthy
University of Texas at Austin Center for Media Engagement
By Ashley Muddiman and Joshua Scacco
May 16, 2019

In the hugely competitive landscape of digital news, clickbait is used to capture audience attention, often at the cost of credibility. One type of clickbait is “outrage news,” which specifically targets audience emotions. Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin investigated how political outrage news affects readers. They found outrage headlines decreased news engagement, including clicks and comments, and instead prompted audiences to suspect fake news. However, outrage headlines also help people remember facts from news articles.

“We found that perceptions of newsroom engagement were worse with outrage content,” the researchers wrote. “Outrage headlines prompted readers to think that the news source was less engaged with the interests of their communities.” Their findings suggest that while clickbait can quickly draw readers in, using outrage content comes at the cost of long-term engagement.

Key Numbers

  • People who read the outrage headline said they had less desire to engage than those who read a non-outrage headline (2.59 compared to 2.75 out of 5).
  • Participants rated overall credibility of the fictional news outlet as 3.49 out of 5 for the non-outrage article, and 3.42 for the outrage article.
  • Similarly, people reported higher trust in the non-outrage article (3.51 out of 5) compared to the outrage article (3.43).

Study Details

  • There were 1,535 study participants, who were recruited from Research Now in May 2018. Their demographics mirror those from the Pew Research Center’s data of U.S. internet users.
  • Participants read news headlines and articles about either immigration or banking regulation on a fictional news outlet, The News Beat.