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Study of Upworthy headlines claims negativity drives website clicks. We have some thoughts.

Let us give you a peek behind the editorial curtain here.

headlines newspapers
Photo by Egor Vikhrev on Unsplash

Let's talk about what makes people read articles.

The adage, "If it bleeds, it leads," refers to the media's tendency to headline stories involving death or violence, but it can also be used to point to people's negativity bias. Simply put, people tend to pay more attention to negative news stories than positive ones.

A new study seems to reinforce this idea. And much to our surprise, it's centered on headlines used in Upworthy stories.

Using a public archive of Upworthy headlines and traffic data from 2012 to 2015, two separate teams of researchers analyzed whether people's click tendencies changed with negative or positive words in headlines. In those olden days of Upworthy, a handful of headlines for a single story were tested on the website to see which one would receive the most clicks. The research teams analyzed those results and found that negative words in headlines led to more people clicking on a story (2.3% more), and positive words in headlines led to fewer clicks (1.0% fewer). They also found a preference for headlines that express sadness over those that express joy, fear or anger.


The two research teams submitted their findings to the journal Nature at the same time in a bit of kismet shared here: "Two Research Teams Submitted the Same Paper to Nature – You Won’t BELIEVE What Happens Next!!" (For those outside media industry circles, "You won't believe what happens next," is a mocking pseudo-headline that came into use during the past decade and has generally been used to degrade the editorial choices of Upworthy and similarly-minded publishers in the early days of social media news.) The teams ended up combining their results in a joint study whose title sums up its conclusion: "Negativity drives online news consumption."

While we appreciate the researchers' work, we're not convinced that 10-year-old Upworthy headlines and traffic are the most appropriate data to draw such a conclusion from. From our perspective, "negativity drives clicks" isn't a clear takeaway here due to the fact that 1) the fast-changing media landscape quickly makes data obsolete, 2) the increases and decreases in clicks were quite modest, which matters a lot since 3) a negative word being used in a headline does not automatically equate to "negativity."

To illustrate these points, let us offer a peek behind the editorial curtain here.

Upworthy gained unprecedented fame in the early 2010s for mastering the "curiosity gap" headline, and for a hot minute, it was incredibly successful. The "Upworthy-style" headline became all the rage and was emulated to some degree by media outlets of all stripes before losing its novelty and falling out of favor somewhere around 2014.

That was a decade ago.

A lot has changed since then, both in media at large and here at Upworthy. "You won't believe what happens next," is several proverbial lifetimes of change in the way all media outlets, including Upworthy, approach storytelling and how our audiences engage with that content. Headlines that got people clicking in 2013 wouldn't be written or clicked on the same way today at all in our experience. So, it feels like conclusions about people's click habits are being drawn from outdated data (a bit like comparing the respective value of a thrift store TV antenna with optimizing your 4K Netflix stream).

People have pointed out some irony in a seeming preference for negative words and sadness here at Upworthy, a website branded as a "positive news outlet." However, that's a simplistic characterization of our content. Upworthy has always shared positive, uplifting stories, to be sure, but it's an ongoing misconception that Upworthy only covers "positive news."

The original idea behind Upworthy was to "change what the world pays attention to" by sharing meaningful stories that highlight our common humanity, and that core ideal hasn't changed. Often, yes, that means telling feel-good stories. But it also means shedding light on and exploring solutions to challenges facing humanity, which aren't always positive or uplifting. Sometimes it means sharing a viral celebrity story that touches on an important issue or an experience many people can relate to. Sometimes it looks like tapping into people's curiosity to help us all better understand the world we live in. We tell stories that uplift and stories that deserve to be uplifted, and our headlines reflect that range of storytelling.

So what should we take from an Upworthy headline study that found people were a little more likely to click on headlines with negative words and sadness in them?

Honestly? Not a whole lot.

We already know negativity bias exists. None of this is revelatory to us (except perhaps the finding that anger does not appear to drive more clicks—that one was a bit of a surprise, to be honest). We've always known that if we wanted to, we could sell our souls and exploit the crap out of people's baser tendencies with our headlines to drive cheap clicks and make bank from it. But we don't, because that's not who we are.

Upworthy's current editorial team takes a different approach to headlines than the folks who were here a decade ago. We don't test multiple headlines anymore to see what clicks. Our process is more organic and intuitive, partly due to our own experience, partly due to lessons learned from our predecessors' data-driven approach and partly due to appreciating the art of a conscientious-yet-effective headline.

Speaking of which, the term "clickbait" gets thrown around with the Upworthy name a lot, including in the study. We have some thoughts on that, too.

Upworthy pioneered a specific headline style that drove a ton of website traffic and lots of people copied that style because it was effective. But a headline that makes people want to click on a story and read it does not automatically make it "clickbait." As long as the story itself is solid, a "clicky" headline is simply a good headline. There is no point in writers creating articles for a website if no one clicks and reads them, and a good headline will make people want to click and read. That statement shouldn't be the least bit controversial.

Genuine clickbait is when a headline promises something that isn't delivered in the story. It's a bait and switch, purely to rack up pageviews. That is not and has never been Upworthy's MO. Of course, we want people to read our stories—we wouldn't be here if we didn't think what we share was worth reading. But headlines are not articles, and every detail of a story can't be included in a 90-character headline. Being misled by a headline and clicking into a story that doesn't deliver is a clickbait problem. Having to actually click on and read an article to get the full story behind a headline is not.

Okay, back to negative words in headlines. Do we ever use them today? Of course, but not for clicks. The top negative words analyzed in the headline study were wrong, bad, awful, hate, war, worst, sick, fight, scary, and hell, and some stories honestly lend themselves to including such words in the headline. And more importantly, a headline with negative words is not necessarily negative.

The researchers point out that they removed headlines that included both positive and negative words to avoid muddying the waters. But searching our website archives from the time period in question for the negative word "wrong," for example, reveals headlines that are not actually negative (unless you think proving an incorrect assumption wrong is a bad thing).

"The classic image of a farmer is a man. These stunning pics prove that wrong." (Certainly not a negative story.)

"5 times Jimmy Carter proved the haters wrong" (This one has two negative words, "hate" and "wrong," but still isn't actually a negative headline or story.)

"The world tells us there's something wrong with us if we don't want to have sex. One chart proves the world wrong." (The word "wrong" in here twice—still not really a negative headline and definitely not a negative story.)

We could go through countless examples like this, not to prove that negativity bias isn't a thing (because we know it is) but to show that not all negative-word-including headlines are created equal. There are headlines in the archives that we'd never write today, some of which truly were negative, but many included a "negative" word but weren't actually negative at all. In light of that and considering the small increase in clicks for headlines containing negative words, we're not convinced that our archive of decade-old headlines is the best measuring stick to use when determining whether people are more drawn to negativity than positivity in news headlines.

We're also not convinced it's a particularly useful question. What we're most interested in is whether people are drawn to content that highlights our shared humanity, connects people around important causes, brings people together in celebration of joy and helps them learn something fascinating about the world we live in. And sure enough, our audience keeps proving time and again that that's what keeps them clicking, reading and sharing our stories, regardless of how many "positive" or "negative" words we include in our headlines.

Images provided by P&G

Three winners will be selected to receive $1000 donated to the charity of their choice.

True

Doing good is its own reward, but sometimes recognizing these acts of kindness helps bring even more good into the world. That’s why we’re excited to partner with P&G again on the #ActsOfGood Awards.

The #ActsOfGood Awards recognize individuals who actively support their communities. It could be a rockstar volunteer, an amazing community leader, or someone who shows up for others in special ways.

Do you know someone in your community doing #ActsOfGood? Nominate them between April 24th-June 3rdhere.Three winners will receive $1,000 dedicated to the charity of their choice, plus their story will be highlighted on Upworthy’s social channels. And yes, it’s totally fine to nominate yourself!

We want to see the good work you’re doing and most of all, we want to help you make a difference.

While every good deed is meaningful, winners will be selected based on how well they reflect Upworthy and P&G’s commitment to do #ActsOfGood to help communities grow.

That means be on the lookout for individuals who:

Strengthen their community

Make a tangible and unique impact

Go above and beyond day-to-day work

The #ActsOfGood Awards are just one part of P&G’s larger mission to help communities around the world to grow. For generations, P&G has been a force for growth—making everyday products that people love and trust—while also being a force for good by giving back to the communities where we live, work, and serve consumers. This includes serving over 90,000 people affected by emergencies and disasters through the Tide Loads of Hope mobile laundry program and helping some of the millions of girls who miss school due to a lack of access to period products through the Always #EndPeriodPoverty initiative.

Visit upworthy.com/actsofgood and fill out the nomination form for a chance for you or someone you know to win. It takes less than ten minutes to help someone make an even bigger impact.

Joy

'90s kid shares the 10 lies that everyone's parent told them

"Don't swallow that gum. If you do, it'll take 7 years to come out."

via 90sKidforLife/TikTok (used with permission)

90sKidforLife shares 10 lies everyone's parents told in the era.


Children believe everything their parents tell them. So when parents lie to prevent their kids to stop them from doing something dumb, the mistruth can take on a life of its own. The lie can get passed on from generation to generation until it becomes a zombie lie that has a life of its own.

Justin, known as 90sKidforLife on TikTok and Instagram, put together a list of 10 lies that parents told their kids in the ‘90s, and the Gen X kids in the comments thought it was spot on.


“Why was I told EVERY ONE of these?” Brittany, the most popular commenter, wrote. “I heard all of these plus the classic ‘If you keep making that face, it will get stuck like that,’” Amanda added. After just four days of being posted, it has already been seen 250,000 times.

Parents were always lying #90s #90skids #parenting

@90skid4lyfe

Parents were always lying #90s #90skids #parenting

Here are Justin’s 10 lies '90s parents told their kids:

1. "You can't drink coffee. It'll stunt your growth."

2. "If you pee in the pool, it's gonna turn blue."

3. "Chocolate milk comes from brown cows."

4. "If you eat those watermelon seeds, you'll grow a watermelon in your stomach."

5. "Don't swallow that gum. If you do, it'll take 7 years to come out."

6. "I told you we can't drive with the interior light on. ... It's illegal."

7. "Sitting that close to the TV is going to ruin your vision."

8. "If you keep cracking your knuckles, you're gonna get arthritis."

8. "You just ate, you gotta wait 30 minutes before you can swim."

10. "If you get a tattoo, you won't find a job."

Internet

Lawyer explains how and why she refuses to sign waivers of liability forms for her child

"I do not waive my child's rights when it comes to liability or catastrophic events."

Representative photos by RDNE Stock Project and João Rabelo via Canva

Lawyer refuses to sign waivers of liability for her child

Every parent is familiar with the standard liability waiver for children to do just about anything. Going on a school field trip, sign a liability waiver. Playing a sport, sign a liability waiver. Going to a birthday party at a trampoline park–you got it, sign a liability waiver. The form is so common that parents often sign it without thinking about what they're actually signing.

The assumption is that if you don't sign the form, whoever "they" are will know and your kid will be left out of whatever activity they wanted to do. But do you actually have to sign those things? Shannon Schott a mom, criminal defense and personal injury attorney says declining is an option.

The attorney took to TikTok to explain how she gets around signing the liability forms for her child and it's much simpler than one might think. According to Schott, she's never been questioned when she simply crosses out the things she doesn't agree with and writes decline next to that particular section. No secret liability waiver police jump out from behind the nearest bush, and her reasoning is quite simple.


Blindly signing on the dotted line essentially waives your child's rights to take legal action if an accident occurs that severely injures, maims or kills your child, Schott explains. The mom tells her audience that as a lawyer who handles personal injury, she would never agree to sign away the option to sue, reminding others that liability waivers are a mutual agreement. Keeping this in mind she only signs what she's comfortable with.

"First and foremost if people are not paying attention, I just don't do it. If someone says you have to go online and sign a waiver I say, 'okay thanks' and I don't do it and no one checks and that's not on me. That's me being smart and not waiving my child's rights," Schott reveals, immediately clarifying that she and her family are safe and not trying to trick someone into a lawsuit.

While many people didn't realize that you had the option to decline, some did and explained how they do it in the comments.

"On my first day of torts, my professor taught us to cross out all of the negligence/death clauses. 10 years later with 2 kids, I've never been questioned (no one noticed)," someone writes.

"I always wrote, 'unless under negligence.' No one ever rechecked my signature," another says.

"I always do this!! My mom did it when we were kids so it became a habit," one commenter shares.

@shannonschott.esq #jaxfl #jaxlawyer #floridalawyer #juvenilejustice #juveniledelinquency #juvenilelawexpert #personalinjury #personalinjurylawyer #personalinjuryattorney #personalinjurylaw #personalinjurytips #personalinjurylawyers #personalinjurylawyerflorida ♬ original sound - Shannon Schott

Schott makes it clear in her video that while she is particular about arbitrarily signing her child's rights away, she's not looking for litigation and she's fine with having her child sit out of an activity if needed. The attorney also reassures a commenter that parents always have the right to revoke a waiver and ask for a new form if they've signed thinking they didn't have a choice. Parents are thanking her for the information with some admitting they need to take a closer look at those forms in the future.

Steve Martin's 2000 novella, "Shopgirl."


Over the past few years, book bans have been happening in public libraries and schools across America. In the 2022-2023 school year alone, over 3,300 books were banned in 182 school districts in 37 states.

Most books that have been banned deal with LGBTQ and racial themes. According to a report from PEN America, Florida has been the most aggressive state regarding book bans, accounting for about 40% of those taken off the shelves.

On November 5, Collier County, Florida, announced that it was banning 300 books from its school libraries out of an effort to comply with state law HB 1069, which says books that depict or describe “sexual content” can be challenged for removal.


Among the books banned by the school district was “Shopgirl,” a novella by author Steve Martin published in 2000. Martin is also the star of the hit Hulu show, “Only Murders in the Building,” featuring Martin Short and Selena Gomez.

Upon hearing about his book being banned, Martin responded with his iconic wit on Instagram, saying, “So proud to have my book Shopgirl banned in Collier County, Florida! Now, people who want to read it will have to buy a copy!"

“Shopgirl” is a story about a young woman who works in a luxury department store and has an affair with a wealthy older man. It was made into a movie in 2005 starring Claire Danes and Martin. It’s believed the book was banned for its mild sexual content. On Amazon, the book is recommended for readers ages 13 and up.


This article originally appeared on 11.11.23

Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash (left) and Dan Renco on Unsplash (right)

The staring is part of the competition.

A video of kids waving a narrow rod in front of a pig while hunching like Dracula and giving someone a death stare has taken the internet by storm, leaving people scratching their heads.

"What did I just watch?" seems to be the primary response to the video shared on the @dadsonfarms TikTok page, followed by various versions of "Where am I?" and "What is happening?" and "How did I end up here?"

The befuddlement is only matched by the curiosity and confused laughter that naturally result from seeing something so…unbelievable? Unexpected? Unusual? Uncanny?


How else should one describe this?

@dadsonfarms

Krew and Karis at The Revival livestock Show! #showpigs #pigshow

"This is the weirdest thing 😂😂🤣 I have so many questions!!!" wrote one person.

"Why do I feel like this is a staring competition and the pigs are just a added difficulty 🤣," wrote another.

"Yay!!! I’m back on hunchback death stare competition while also showing pigs tiktok!" exclaimed another.

"Again. What did I react to, to end me up here?" asked another.

If you've ever stepped foot in the world of 4-H or FFA (Future Farmers of America), you likely recognize there's a livestock showing competition happening here. But if you're a city slicker with no rural or agricultural ties, you may not know that "showing" animals is even a thing.

Not only it it a thing, but it's a highly competitive endeavor with specific rules and guidelines and expectations. It does help to have the showmanship requirements explained, however, and thankfully the kids' dad explained in a separate video.

The kids showcased here are Karis and Krew, twins who compete in the 13 to 16-year-old category of pig showing. The pigs are Smack Down and Greta. The reason the competitors stare so intently is to show they are paying attention to the judge and also to show how much control they have. (And according to one commenter, they get extra points for keeping eye contact with the judge the whole time.)

More questions answered here:

@dadsonfarms

@Lawrence Johnson I tried to answer all your Questions about showing Pigs 😊! #showpigs #pigshow

People have been fascinated to learn about how much goes into these exhibitions. Who knew pig showing was this intense? And with judges being flown across the country—there's an official Livestock Judges' Association and everything—this is clearly serious business.

Except when you add the music to it, it just comes off as seriously strange hilarity.

@dadsonfarms

Great night to show at western regionals #showpigs #hogshowman

So what exactly is the point of all of this?

When livestock showing began in the 1800s, the primary purpose was to improve the quality of livestock. These days, it's more about helping young people developing character qualities through programs like 4-H and FFA while learning about farm animal care and preparation for selling. They learn about responsibility, self-discipline, hard work and professionalism through these competitions.

And they clearly master making eye contact as well. You can follow @dadsonfarms on TikTok for more.

Palestinian and Israeli whose family members were killed sit face-to-face to talk peace

One man lost his parents. The other lost his brother. Their dialogue is moving people to tears.

Photos by cottonbro studio/Pexels (left), and by Ahmed Abu Hameeda on Unsplash (right)

Hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians

Conflict between Israel and Palestine has been ongoing for many decades, with scholars around the world spending years analyzing and explaining why and how. But regardless of how we got here, the violence we saw perpetrated on Israelis on October 7th and the violence we've seen perpetrated on Palestinians in the months since has been a drastic escalation with unspeakably tragic results.

People of goodwill everywhere search for hope in times such as these, for evidence that humanity hasn't been completely destroyed by vengeance and violence, that real peace is in fact possible. And there is no better pair to offer glimmers of such hope than Palestinian peacemaker Aziz Abu Sarah and Israeli peacemaker Maoz Inon, who sat down face-to-face on a TED stage in April of 2024 to share their personal stories and talk about what peace requires.

Unlike those of us watching war unfold from half a world away through the lens of media spin and social media algorithms, these men have lived this conflict up close. Sarah's brother was killed by the Israeli Defense Forces when he was just 19 years old. Inon's parents were killed by Hamas on the October 7th, 2023 attack. They both have every reason to be angry—and they are—but the way they purposefully process their anger into peacebuilding is an example to us all.


Inon begins their conversation by sharing how his parents and childhood friends were killed on October 7th, then shares how grateful he was that Sarah was one of the first people to reach out to him even though they'd only met once before. Sarah shares how his brother was killed by the IDF and how all of his friends have lost family members to Israel's bombardment of Gaza, yet praises how he Inon has processed his loss.

"When I sent you that message to offer my condolences after your parents were killed, I was surprised by your answer," Sarah told Inon. "Not just to me, but your public answer. Because you said you're not only crying for your parents, you're also crying for the people in Gaza who are losing their lives, and that you do not want what happened to you to be justifying anyone taking revenge. You do not want to justify war."

"And it's so hard to do that," he added. "So much easier to want revenge, to be angry. But you are a brave man."

Sarah said it took him "much more time" to reach such a place after his brother was killed. "I was angry, I was bitter, and I wanted vengeance. I was 10 years old and I thought there is no other choice. And only eight years later, when I went to study Hebrew with Jewish immigrants to Israel, that's only when I realized that we can be allies."

Both men have been peace activists for years. What's particularly beautiful about their conversation is that they are talking directly to each other, not to the audience, offering an example of what sitting down with the "other side" can look like when you share the goal of peace. They tell their personal stories and explain what has driven them to seek reconciliation over revenge. They listen to and learn from one another. They acknowledge the difficulty but are unwavering in their dedication to build peace.

The division stemming from the historical reality and current politics of Israel and Palestine may feel intractable, but if these men who have lost so much can find common ground and a shared vision, then hope remains. Their dialogue is moving people to tears and is well worth a watch: