Once or twice, we at Cracked have gone out of our way to point out when a totally bullshit "news" story blows up and goes viral. And by "once or twice," we mean we've done this exact premise 25 times.

So far we've confined ourselves to going after stories that were outright false and spread mainly by the most crapulent news sources imaginable, but lately we've started to notice a different growing trend: attention-grabbing headlines that have nothing to do with the article's actual content. Websites can get away with this because, for thousands of people, the headline is all they read before clicking "share." One of NPR's writers proved this beautifully on April Fools' Day 2014, with an article titled "Why Doesn't America Read Anymore?" The actual article admitted they had nothing to say about literacy and it was purely a test to see if people would share content they hadn't even skimmed.

Sweet flashdancing fuck yes they would.

NPR Like Page D April What has become of our brains? Why Doesn't America Read Anymore? In an age of readily available information and countless ways t
facebook.com/NPR

So apparently lying to millions of people is fine as long as you do it with the right headline. We've christened this trend headlying and put together a guide to spotting it before you give precious clicks to a bullshit article. You should start getting suspicious when you notice these dead giveaways:

The Stupidest Detail Is the Whole Story

Hey, did you catch this story about a woman who parked her car on the highway, leading to the deaths of two motorcyclists? She's now staring at the chance of life in prison, and you probably feel like that's a fair punishment. Shitty drivers rank right above Nazi doctor and below Satan on our Sympathy Scale. If this story doesn't sound familiar, it's because almost all the coverage looked like this:

FOX NEWS  The ofcua nog CHOL SCHEDULE I PEOPLE SHOWS MOST RECENT STORIES Woman Who Stopped Car to Help Ducks Faces Life in Prison After Crash
foxnewsinsider.com

"But the ducks are cool, right?"

See, the Canadian Wonder up there stopped her car on the highway to rescue some ducklings. Obviously, "helping ducks" is the angle you lead with. Fuck it, that's the only detail any of your readers ever need to hear. Cut those two dead human beings out of the mix and this goes from a sad story to a headline that'll flood Facebook feeds like the banks of the Ganges after a thunderstorm. Of course it's not surprising to see Fox fart out that kind of headline; they've got about as much journalistic street cred as J.K. Rowling. But here's the Independent's coverage:

THE INDEPENDENT WEDNESDAY 09 JULY 2014 Apps NEWS IMAGES VOICES SPORT WORED CUP HUB TECH LFF PROPERTY ARTS+ENTS r UK Woridv Businessw Peoplev/ Science
independent.co.uk

"Our logo should have been a tipoff to our pro-avian sympathies."

And here's USA Today's headline. At this point, we've jettisoned any mention of a crash altogether, because that shit just gets in the way of the righteous duck narrative we've got going on:

USA TODAY Search NMEY C0N VDE S0S LFE HLONEY CH EAVT ORNLON CeOsSwORDS YOUR YAN INVISTIGANIONS V0O STOCXCS 0 Woman who stopped for ducks faces life in
usatoday.com

"Please check our new yellow tab for all related duck news."

Uproxx, who, let's face it, are about as reputable as any of these guys nowadays, completed this lady's arc from "reckless motorist who ended two lives" to "EMBATTLED DEFENDER OF DUCK-KIND":

UPROXX WEB CULTURE HOME WEB CULTURE TV MOVIES TECH MUSIC SPORTS This Lady Could Go To Jail For Life For Saving Ducks On The Side Of The Road BY JEFF S
uproxx.com

"Attica! Attica!"

So what the hell is going on here? Read a little further in each of these stories and you get to the real facts -- the author of this article wasn't under the misconception that this woman had somehow run afoul of Canada's neo-fascist duck-hating government. Whoever wrote these titles knew that the real story was a tragic non-issue. But holy shit, you guys, running a modern website means new content every day, and that whole duck bit was too crazy to not run somehow.

The goal of headlying isn't to convince people to read the actual article. It's a cynical act of content necromancy, raising a dead story back to life via the animating power of lies, secure that no one who shares your article through social media will ever bother to read it. Think the term "content necromancy" is a smidge hyperbolic?

A Year-Old Story Is Suddenly Breaking News

No story is too ancient to be dusted off and retold, but this time with urgency.

news comau National Worid Finance Sport Entertainment Lifestye avel Technology Video Ye areerer cO a enn world 7E Hooker left Israpl Bodies Grrman rou
news.com.au

AlterNet HOLIF CONTACT NEWS & POLITICS WORLD ECONOMY RIGHTS ENVIRONMENT MEDIA & CULTURE NEWS & POLITICS Courthouse News By Jack Bouboushian 218 COMMEN
alternet.org

RAW TH CELERRATING 0YTARSor INORpsnesy IOUJUNALISM STORY Front Page U.S News World Science Tech Media All Video Pandagon llinois police killed 95-year
rawstory.com

"Local ducks unharmed."

Holy shit! What an infuriating example of unchecked police abuse. Cops just shot some wheelchair-bound World War II vet for refusing to visit the hospital. It's not until you read on that you realize this whole thing went down a full year ago. The new part of the story is that the cop involved has been charged and got a trial date, and the vet's family is suing. But that headline isn't nearly as sexy as "POLICE KILL WWII VET WITH BEANBAG GUN," so why bother writing a new one?

This kind of necromancy happens most often with infuriating stories of abuse, violence, and social injustice. There's a rational part of the brain that short circuits as soon as the "moral outrage" lobe lights up. We go straight into fight mode and start broadcasting our rage without pausing to make sure there's actually something to be outraged about. The websites you visit know this, because they have detailed metrics on how you browse and what you share. They know that flipping the right switch in enough brains can be the difference between a story going viral and their writers going home without liquor money.

Science Made Interesting (With Lies)

Science is a pain in the ass. As much as we "like" I Fucking Love Science, we don't actually understand or give two shits about science. Because real science is a thing of incremental advances, and that's not super shareable.

5 Ways Internet Headlines Fool You Into Clicking On Crap
science.nasa.gov

"Guys, I'm really concerned about the lack of the word 'science' on our page. Maybe add some pop-ups?"

Here's NASA's coverage of a new discovery -- it's pretty sensational, actually. The phrase "habitable zone" sounds way more positive than it really is. The scientists in the article admit they have absolutely no idea if the planet is anything close to habitable. It's just not too close or too far to be an Instant Death World. While NASA's PR person played it a little fast and loose with the titling, everyone else just went straight for "NEW EARTH!":

5 Ways Internet Headlines Fool You Into Clicking On Crap
foxnews.com

SPACE. f in TECH SPACEFLIGHT SCIENCE ASTRONOMY SEARD COM TRENDING: Skywatching Guiide N Space Webcasts N Mars Ronr Curiosity Y Solar Flares AV Space P
space.com

"The planet is thought to be equal in mass to the amount of bullshit this story contains."

Of course, this sort of thing happens all the fucking time with space stuff. Remember this headline?

009 Q Search BUTUPE Earth may soon have a second sun Alasdair Wilkins 451371 a 10 SPACE PORN 120/11 10 22m
io9.com

"And we may soon report facts. Who knows?"

The actual story? A dying star may go supernova within the next few centuries/several thousand years. If it does, our distant descendants might have a brighter night sky for a couple of weeks. (As if the Steam Towers of the Infernal Emperor won't have blotted out the night sky by then.)

METRO Le foonn netroek tns News Sport Guilty Pleasures Entertainment Life & Style Newws IK World Weird Tech Money Battlestar Galactica fans eat your h
metro.co.uk

And just like Battlestar, they're making up this shit as they go along.

Pay no mind to the fact that this "Earth-like" planet is five times the size of Earth, much closer to its sun, and also 16 light-years away. We'll call that a stone's throw, because if we ever make the single greatest advance in propulsion history and invent light-speed engines, it'll only be one-fifth of a human lifetime away!

Use Half a Quote as a Headline

It's hard to title an article. We struggle with this mind-blowingly difficult problem at Cracked. So did the soccer columnist who heard cut U.S. World Cup team member Landon Donovan admit to -- briefly -- rooting against his own team before realizing how awful that was and feeling ashamed. Fortunately, that columnist was an honest man, and he came up with a fair title:

Visarl Brewse f~9 SI Column Landon Donovan gets over being cut CEADCH
latimes.com

This kind of thing is going to make celebrities not want to talk to us, folks. You've got the incredibly rare case of a pro athlete giving an honest interview and admitting something besides the fact that he thought Jesus was on his side. And for his courageous and candid words, lazy reporters turned him into the villain of their own made-for-TV sports movie.

Make Small Issues Big by Giving Extra Authority to Tiny Groups

There are a lot of stupid, terrible opinions in the world that, luckily, are only held by like three people. Fortunately for online journalists, you can still cover them in your newspaper if you just don't mention that second part. For example:

OCBSNEWS Video US Word Politics Entertainment Health CBS NEWS June 11, 2014, 2:54 P1 Furor over Facebook pic of college grad breastfeeding during cere
cbsnews.com

mailonline Home U.K. News Sports U.S. Showbiz Australia Femail I Health l Science I Money News Home Arts Headlines Pictures Most cead 1 News Board Wir
dailymail.co.uk

People Like 41m Follow 5 SM Search All HOME NEWS PHOTOS STYLE RED CARPET VIDEO ROYALS COUNTRY TV GET A FREE ISSUES DE PEODEF NEWS MAIN HEROES AMONGUS
people.com

11 News Bmtenainment Money ts ts Sle nGA Dranoe More TODAY Parents Sow B al on the bo baties dadis trending pregnancy savannahi's blog beas -eedin mom
today.com

"There's no way that infant had enough credits to be there."

But the reality is that she tweeted a picture, and a handful of people got mad. And not all that mad.

Follow Maybe I still have sleep in my eyes but did I just see a pic of a chick really breastfeeding during middle of her graduation? 11:18 AM-8Jun 201
via Twitter

#Eh?

The rest is ... support? It's all support. Everyone else is supportive, because obviously they would be. It's almost like the entire media just saw the term "breast-feed" and, knowing that this is the type of topic people get angry about, assumed there were enough angry people to justify an article. And by the time they realized how wrong they were, their summary of what happened was pretty much already done. So fuck it.

5 Ways Internet Headlines Fool You Into Clicking On Crap

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