Clickbait is defined as “a sensationalized headline or piece of text on the Internet designed to entice people to follow a link to an article.” Merriam-Webster adds this to the definition “the link leads to content of dubious value or interest.” Clickbait is easy to find. With the mushrooming polarization of the press, political pundits, and the general populace, clickbait is a powerful tool in the battle for attention. Anyone allowing opinions to be shaped by clickbait headlines may fall subject to outdated or erroneous information. Allowing our opinions to be heavily influenced or shaped as the result of clickbait headlines will likely send our heads spinning!

We may find ourselves in the same head spinning state of confusion if we base our financial opinions and decisions on the basis of headlines found online! Consider these headlines from one May 23, 2020 online financial magazine.

  • Your 401(k) won’t be enough for retirement
  • Don’t even think of owning stocks unless you’re willing to buy and hold for at least 10 years
  • Forget bonds – here are 5 safe tech stocks offering dividends and growth

Imagine a quiet Saturday (May 23) morning. After finishing breakfast, you grab your iPad, your coffee, and head out onto the deck. It has been a wild three months. Your retirement account dropped 41% of its value in only one month. You are feeling slightly more confident now, but you are still down 20%. You wonder if your feet are planted firmly in mid-air financially! You want rational information to help you keep your plans on track.

You see a title suggesting tips that can help you navigate financial markets as the economy begins to reopen. You reach for more coffee and then you see the aforementioned 3 headlines listed in succession. Your mind races, “You’re telling me that my retirement account won’t be enough. Then you tell me that, as a 60-year-old, I should sell all stocks since I will need the money in less than 10 years? Wait, then you follow that by telling me I can’t put my money in bonds either? What am I supposed to do…hide it all in one of my grandmother’s milk jugs?

The headline writers accomplished their purpose! They grabbed your attention and elicited an emotional response! If you took the time to follow the clickbait and read the articles in FULL, things evened out a bit. The first article reminded everyone that we can never ignore controlling our spending and saving consistently. The second article never said sell all stocks (yes, purely reading the headline someone MAY have thought that). The author advised, with current market volatility, putting new money in stocks should not be done without a 10-year holding period in mind. The third author merely provided advice that before diving head long into bonds, trying to eliminate risk, every investor should look at the alternatives available.

The moral of the story…or as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story, is we should not allow headlines to guide our thinking. Headlines are seldom, if ever, written by the author of the article.

For many decades, print media outlets hired headline writers whose job it was to make sure you read a story. This normally required moving your attention away from something else and eliciting an emotional response urging you to read on.

Contemporary online media employs headline writers that bait you into clicking on the article. They often use words provoking emotional responses. We should not allow emotions to guide our responses and decisions. Emotions are natural. Emotions inform our thinking, but they should not control our thinking or actions. If we do, we will find our heads spinning.

Here is to thinking clearly, acting decisively, living financially free, and pursuing our passions…in every stage of life.