I wrote a news headline that didn't even link to a story. Over 2,000 people commented on it anyway.

I've written for the fine people of the internet for more than a decade. At this point, you'd think nothing would surprise me.

I mean, I've had private messages sent to my personal inboxes that would make a sailor blush. I've had people write jaw-dropping screeds in response to articles I've written that shouldn't even have been controversial. I've watched comment sections turn into mob-like madness and have been called every unsavory name in the book.

Sometimes I think I've seen it all—and then something like this happens.


Last Thursday, Upworthy published an article I wrote with the headline, "Most domestic terrorism comes from white supremacists, FBI director tells lawmakers." The article includes links to sources for the facts, a video of Wray's testimony, information about what the current administration is/isn't doing about domestic terrorism, and some commentary and questions to get people thinking and talking.

When the article first went up on Upworthy's Facebook page on Thursday, it got more than a thousand shares and sparked hundreds of comments.

It was a pretty standard response for a piece like that.

But then this happened:

The article was shared again over the weekend, only this time there was a glitch. At first, here's what showed up on Facebook:

I have no idea why it says "Don't Publish this" or why there's no image. Someone was probably testing something behind the scenes and accidentally scheduled it to publish. And there was no article linked. If people clicked on the post, it went straight to this error page:

People shared and commented on the Facebook post anyway, which I thought was weird. But it got caught fairly quickly and taken down.

Later in the weekend, however, another share of the article went up, this time with the correct headline, image, and share text. Still no link to the article, though. Anyone who clicked was taken straight to that same 404 error page.

Guess how many shares and comments that post got before Upworthy got wind of the dead link and took it down.

More than 2,000 comments. And thousands of shares to other people's Facebook feeds.

[Deep breath.] Okay, people. We need to talk.

Is sharing a dead link embarrassing for Upworthy? Sure. But not nearly as embarrassing as the 2,000+ people who shared and commented on it without even clicking on it, nor as embarrassing as the commenters who wrote things like "This article is full of race-baiting b.s." and "This article is FAKE NEWS," without even reading the article they were attacking.

Again, there was no article to read. When I saw the Facebook share and started reading the comments, I was baffled. Only about 2% of the comments were people saying "There's a dead link," or "Link isn't working." Two in a hundred. No exaggeration.

Everyone else was reacting only to the headline. Full on debates raged. People claimed that Upworthy was publishing lies or writing articles that were just designed to divide people.

None of these commenters had any idea what they were talking about because THERE. WAS. NO. ARTICLE.

I often find myself dismayed by people who obviously comment without reading the article. (I wrote a whole article once about why people need to stop that nasty habit.) But I've never seen such a blatant example of how common this is. It was like an unintentional sociological experiment that thousands of people failed.

A headline is not an article. Share text is not an article. Why are people sharing something they clearly haven't read? Why are people sharing their thoughts on an article that wasn't even there?

There could have been anything at that link—I could have made stuff up out of thin air, I could have linked to actual fake news sites, I could have brazenly misquoted someone—except Upworthy has standards, thank goodness. Maybe I should feel happy that the people who shared it felt like they could trust the outlet I wrote for, but I'm super uneasy with that. No one should be sharing something they haven't read, no matter who publishes it.

And there's one more element to this that deserves a word: How headlines get crafted.

I'm guessing the reason people didn't bother clicking that link is because the headline was clear and descriptive and neatly summed up the story at a basic level.

The headline gave no details or proof, of course. Nevermind the fact that the article points out an important differentiation between domestic terrorism and homegrown violent extremist terrorism. Nevermind the fact that the article makes clear that white supremacist violence is nothing new. (Sooo many commenters felt the need to point that out.) Nevermind the fact that this administration has slashed programs designed to counter white supremacist violence despite its own intelligence agencies' warnings. All of those things add important context to the story, but the headline is so clear that people don't even know what information they're missing.

Aye, and here's the rub: What would get people clicking and reading is a less clear headline—maybe something like "FBI director tells lawmakers that most domestic terrorists come from a specific group of Americans." But you know what we'd be accused of then? Clickbait. People would complain that we were being vague on purpose, just for clicks. Facebook would ding us and squash our reach because its almighty algorithm would determine that—heaven forbid—we want people to actually click on our content and read it.

If we write clear, concise, informative headlines, people don't read the article. If we write vague headlines that leave people with questions, people complain about clickbait. Writers can't win.

I just want a t-shirt, a banner, a billboard, and a meme that says, "READ THE DAMN ARTICLE, PEOPLE." I also request a parrot that repeats that same phrase all day long. That's literally all I want right now.

Fine people of the internet, we are better than this. We can do better than this. Please don't prove me wrong.

Canva

As millions of Americans have raced to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, millions of others have held back. Vaccine hesitancy is nothing new, of course, especially with new vaccines, but the information people use to weigh their decisions matters greatly. When choices based on flat-out wrong information can literally kill people, it's vital that we fight disinformation every which way we can.

Researchers at the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a not-for-profit non-governmental organization dedicated to disrupting online hate and misinformation, and the group Anti-Vax Watch performed an analysis of social media posts that included false claims about the COVID-19 vaccines between February 1 and March 16, 2021. Of the disinformation content posted or shared more than 800,000 times, nearly two-thirds could be traced back to just 12 individuals. On Facebook alone, 73% of the false vaccine claims originated from those 12 people.

Dubbed the "Disinformation Dozen," these 12 anti-vaxxers have an outsized influence on social media. According to the CCDH, anti-vaccine accounts have a reach of more than 59 million people. And most of them have been spreading disinformation with impunity.

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Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

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The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

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