Why I Think People Should Read Full Texts–Not Just Headlines–Before Commenting

Importance of Reading Full Texts

We’ve written on the blog before about the importance of backing up assertions with evidence when one writes (with evidence being, loosely, one’s reasoning, not necessarily intense scholarly research), but I’ve been thinking lately about a tangentially related topic—making assertions (or writing responses to) something one hasn’t read at all.

On a theoretical level, I think doing this would seem ridiculous to a lot of people; they would think that of course no one would have and disseminate an opinion or interpretation of something they haven’t read.  It would be absurd to write an essay on or a review of a book you haven’t read, for instance, or to talk about the merits (or lack thereof) a scientific study you never looked at.  Yet people do this all the time.

People frequently comment on blog posts, news articles, scientific studies, and other texts that they haven’t actually read because they read the headline and believe that alone suffices.  Yet generally (in the vast majority of cases), the headline is not the full story.  For instance, sometimes headlines are directly misleading and don’t give an accurate representation of the content of the text at all.  Publications will write provocative titles that will generate shares and, yes, clicks—even if not actual full readers. But this does not need to be the case for it to be a bad idea to respond to and even take away “information” from just a headline.  Headlines simply are not nuanced enough to convey the full meaning, argument, and intricacies of a text.

For instance, I recently saw someone on Twitter mention a 2019 study that concluded that married mothers do more housework and have less leisure time than single mothers.  This person’s interpretation of the study (or, rather, of the headline) is that men create more work than they do work, leaving women with the difference.  But that’s not what the study says.  The study actually suggests that married women might be socially conditioned to feel obligated to do more work, that when a single mother concludes the house is “clean enough,” a married women feels pressured to clean more, perhaps to be a “good wife.”

So the person “summarizing” the study on Twitter is spreading misinformation, as well as causing others to be outraged that “men are creating tons of work for women,” when that simply is not what the study suggests.  The person merely assumed men were the cause of married mothers doing more work, based on their personal interpretation of just the headline, and they were wrong.

I see such assumptions nearly every day.  Sometimes people even jump to conclusions when headlines are so vague, it’s hard to follow their line of thought.  For example, I might write a post titled, “Why I Love Bananas,” and I would get comments that say, “I agree that bananas are great because they are yellow,” even if the post never mentions the color of bananas and instead talks about their taste.  The reader saw the headline and assumed they knew why bananas are awesome, but they never read the text to see if that’s what I was saying.

I was most recently confused when I saw an author on Twitter encouraging people not to link to an article she considered outrage clickbait but rather only to tweet out screenshots of the headline, so the offending journal would not get the gratification of clicks.  While I agree the article in question was rubbish clickbait, I vehemently disagree with the idea of intentionally spreading the headline while simultaneously purposely discouraging clicks—that is, literally, discouraging people from actually reading an article that you also expect them to comment on and discuss on your Twitter thread.  If you want to discuss how ridiculous an article is, you should read it first, and if you want others to discuss the article with you, you should expect them to read it, too.  Notably, most of the people outraged about the article on Twitter were not outraged about the actual main argument of the article…because they had never read it.

As readers and people who value communication and the written word, I think it’s our responsibility to be thoughtful about the ways we spread, share, and respond to texts.  If someone responds to a blog post I write after clearly having read only the title, that doesn’t really matter in the long run.  However, it does matter when people read only the titles of news articles, scientific studies, etc. and assume they know what the text said when they don’t.  The problem is compounded when the people who haven’t read the text act as if they have and write summaries and responses that others pick up, share, and believe.  “Fake news” isn’t just propaganda created to intentionally mislead the public about important events; it’s also all the “summaries” and “interpretations” of texts we read on blogs and social media every day, things written by our online friends and acquaintances when they give the impression of knowing about a text they have not really read.  And how awkward to read someone’s summary of a new scientific study and realize, maybe years later, that the new “science fact” you learned wasn’t true at all!  If you are angry about a text or wish to spread information about a text, it’s always a good idea to read the text in full yourself before finalizing and sharing your opinion.

Briana

23 thoughts on “Why I Think People Should Read Full Texts–Not Just Headlines–Before Commenting

  1. My Bookish Bliss says:

    Oh Briana, how right you are. My husband does this all the time and it drives me nuts. It makes me so crazy that I have to go and read the article in question so that I can set him straight before he goes around spreading wrong information. Unfortunately, it is so prolific that folks do this, I am starting to believe that most people never read anything.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I occasionally find myself doing it, as well, which is frustrating! Like, I’ll see a headline, decide I’m not interested in the article, then later something related comes up in conversation and I’m all, “Oh, they’re saying cotton candy is healthy now” or something and when someone asks me more about it, I realize I just saw a headline and don’t know anything! But it’s definitely more frustrating when people clearly see a headline on Twitter and immediately start commenting about it without reading the article. How do they not see what they’re doing there??? And then other people just read the comments and assume the *other* commenters know what they’re talking about (instead of the article writer, the actual expert), and it’s a whole mess.

      Like

  2. Ben Ace says:

    I really like this interpretation of the problem. I’m highkey guilty of doing this, and I’m trying to break myself of this “habit”, so seeing articles like this helps remind me, and others, that we need to be more responsible on the interwebs. And I really like that you added the argument about fake news and I totally agree with you! It’s more than just propaganda, it’s also misinformation!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I thought about the fake news part because I think that’s often my personal flaw. I’ll see commenters online who sound as if they know what they’re talking about and just…believe them. Too often, however, they’re not actually authorities and not actually right, so I need to remember to verify things I see random people say, especially when I *know* a lot of them are simply making assumptions and misinterpreting headlines.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. alilovesbooks says:

    Interesting topic. I think social media and twitter in particular has to take a lot of the blame for the increase in this. Everything is so instant and I think people feel under pressure to get their comment or “hot take” out there first. If you take your time and read things properly someone else is likely to get there first. They’ll get the likes and the follows and you’ll be seen as derivative.

    Like

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yes, I think Twitter and social media does make things seem really fast, and it really encourages the idea of reading someone’s tweeted headline and then offering an instant “hot take,” as you say. I think it–and Internet comment sections–also really encourages the thing where people just get their information from other people’s hot takes instead of reading the article. Is it easier to read a Twitter thread and replies…or actually click and read the article? I know some publications have gone the route of eliminating comments on their websites entirely to help combat the fact that a lot of readers were giving equal weight to the article (from an expert) and the comments (from random people), and they might be on to something.

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  4. Never Not Reading says:

    I know you’ve been thinking about writing this post. It seems like it shouldn’t have to get said anymore. I mean, did we not learn our lesson by electing Donald Trump via talking about and sharing articles we hadn’t read? I think it’s a laziness thing. We are desperate for attention, so we HAVE to post on social media, but we’re too lazy or don’t actually care enough to read.

    I also wanted to say something about “It would be absurd to write an essay on or a review of a book you haven’t read, for instance…”. Because people do this on Goodreads ALL. THE. TIME. Even worse, they encourage others to do it. “This book was so offensive and terrible, I want all of my followers to go rate it one-star so nobody will buy or read this trash.” It really grates my cheese.

    Like

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I went back and forth on writing that it would be absurd to review a book you hadn’t read because I agree people actually do do this now, frustratingly. But I think that’s something most of our actual followers on the blog wouldn’t do. And I think the people who do it think that it’s an “exception” if the book is supposedly offensive. Of course they wouldn’t just make up a review about a book they hadn’t read–*unless someone on Twitter said it was offensive.* In their minds, this is somehow different. Personally, I think if you’re going to one star books like that, your “review” you type in the box cannot say, “This book is offensive.” That suggests you read it and think so yourself. You should write, “I gave this book one star because I saw someone on Twitter say it was offensive, and I decided not to read it.” At least let people know how much weight to give your rating. Is it your own opinion or someone else’s?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. kozbisa says:

    We just seem to live in an era of reacting before we know the whole story. Not sure if it’s a result of having so much information coming at us at all times, that many decide to cut corners, or that we just trust so blindly. I know, when I see something out “there”, I do a google search to find out more information, and try to get it from varied sources (since I am a lonely moderate).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I think having too much information is part of where it becomes a problem for me. I try to not actually tweet or say things online about just headlines if I haven’t actually read the article in question, but I do see headlines online, think “I’m not interested in that right now,” move on and then…remember I saw the headline later if a related topic comes up in conversation (usually in person rather than online). So suddenly I’m all, “Oh, yes, I saw people aren’t supposed to eat yogurt anymore” or something, but I actually have no idea what I’m talking about. I just skimmed past a headline that said, “People Need to Stop Eating Yogurt.” At least I admit I only read the headline and don’t know *why* yogurt shouldn’t be eaten!

      It is much easier to remember to do research when something someone says seems weird or wrong, but much harder when it sounds reasonable.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Kal @ Reader Voracious says:

    Thank you so much for this post, Briana! One of the most annoying things about social media I find is the propensity of people just sharing based on a headline, without even reading or skimming to see what they are actually sharing. It’s easy to do, and I’ve been guilty of seeing something of interest and wanting to click RT – but I do my best to stop and read more before sharing it. I think clickbait designed to drive engagement rather than consumption has conditioned us to form our opinions based on those headlines. We’ve become very reactionary without having all of the fact. As a blogger, it drives me nuts when I get a blog comment that has no relevance to the post itself. I think we all can do better here, and I appreciate this reminder.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I will admit I have the impulse sometimes, too, and then I remember I didn’t read the article and go and do so. I often find that what I thought the article was about (based on a combination of the headline and other people’s comments–who, in retrospect, I realize did not read the article themselves before commenting) was completely wrong.

      And, yes, I hate when I get comments that aren’t related to my post! I think that there’s such a push to comment around and engage in the community (and probably get more traffic) that people skim and comment without reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. DoingDewey says:

    I wish this didn’t have to be said, but I definitely get the impulse to engage with a twitter conversation that started with an article you’ve not read. I try to check myself if I go to do this and also try not to retweet claims without sources, even if they match my preconceived notions of what’s true 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I will admit I have the impulse sometimes, too, and then I remember I didn’t read the article and go and do so. I often find that what I thought the article was about (based on a combination of the headline and other people’s comments–who, in retrospect, I realize did not read the article themselves before commenting) was completely wrong.

      I really like the point about not retweeting things you haven’t verified too!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Kelly | Another Book in the Wall says:

    This is such a brilliant post! I cannot express how much I agree with all that you’ve said here. It’s such a shame how people take advantage of headlines, misconstruing an article’s information to suit whatever opinion they are promoting. This unfortunately happened to me once last year, when a few bloggers had misinterpreted what I wrote in a blog post, and proceeded to spread this misinformation about the content of my post. I received massive backlash for this particular discussion, and it was over accusations that were primarily false.

    In our current culture, we’re all so inclined to read a short headline or sentence, and believe to know exactly what the whole story is. I can’t stress how important it is to put in the time, effort, and maybe even a little research before jumping to conclusions about anything on the internet (blogging, and non-blogging articles alike).

    Great post, Briana! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I’m so sorry that happened to you! Attracting an angry mob of commenters is one of my fears, and knowing people were angry when they hadn’t *read the actual post* would drive me insane. But maybe I’d be so angry about their ridiculousness, it would help me get over the fact I had an angry mob on my hands. I’ve seen swift, negative reactions to blog posts, and I think it’s an area the book community needs to really work on.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction says:

    This is SO true! I’ve seen so many news articles where the headline is purposely misleading (usually to draw people in). If you don’t read the full article, you can’t form an opinion about the topic. And you make a good point about people using studies to back up false claims as well—studies are great, but only if they’re being used and cited properly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yes! It’s bad enough when the headline is reasonable but people just draw their own wild conclusions from it, but then there are the *intentionally* misleading ones! It’s such a trend to just read a headline and react as if we know what we’re talking about, and it’s a bad dynamic all around.

      Like

  10. Michael J. Miller says:

    All I can add is “THANK YOU” for writing this! This needs to be required reading for, you know, anyone who interacts with people. This is something that so needs to be shouted from the mountaintops and reinforced in our daily lives.

    Like

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