This Prank Proved That Americans Don’t Read Past Headlines

americans don't read past headlines

By Heather Callaghan

But it may have proven more…

A social media April Fool’s prank spearheaded by NPR in 2014 is – ironically – drawing some reflection. This isn’t one of those frustrating social media psychology tests without the users’ knowledge. It appears to have been a lighthearted joke and a thank you to readers.

NPR posed a question with a link:

Why Doesn’t America Read Anymore?

According to writer Jay Hathaway, commenters squawked:

We totally do, NPR. Shut up. We read all the time. We’re reading your article right now!

Which only proved that they didn’t.

Had they actually gone to the link on the NPR website they wouldn’t have seen a story, but would have seen this message:

npr social media prank

“If you are reading this, please like this post and do not comment on it,” it says.

But the social media post was heavily weighted with response-baggage, many of them paragraphs long, chiding NPR and defending their book diet trying to ward off perceived disapproval. But they didn’t read the “article,” did they? Some circles suggest that only 2 out of 10 people will read past the headline.

Even though it was all in good humor, it actually unwittingly proved a few points – both in the positive and something-to-think-about categories.

Writers already know people do this – it’s the frustration they feel when they visit their story’s post to see if there are discussions, only to see mile-long arguments based on a faulty presumption of the headline. They know the person hasn’t read the article before deciding a belief and that headlines invite rock-throwing. That seems to be par for the Internet course.

But even worse…

Is to see people sharing something as though it’s the gospel, commenting on it and calling for action – when you can clearly gather it’s a completely fabricated satirical headline. Unlike NPR, the satire sites and the malicious, fake websites are not making sure people finally get that it was a joke.  I’ve commented on threads about sources in hopes that the 12,000 people I saw share faulty posts did not throw literal rocks at the groups of people targeted in them.

Yet, there is no shortage of amazing information; and, unfortunately, the nature of the beast requires that catchy headlines be chosen unless the writer was the Stephen King of article authors and just the name could encourage a click. It’s hard for any writer or site to vie for attention. Even then, people often don’t read past the headlines.

This fact merely shows that people have limited amounts of time in their day and there’s nothing wrong with that. The NPR prank might show that people want approval and they want to argue before they know what’s what, but it also highlights that people simply feel crunched for time.

And this is a problem…

imagesIt’s time to prioritize our lives if we want to take information to the next level. It’s hard to delve deeper into understanding when time for reading is spread throughout the day over a phone. Wisdom would require understanding to permeate all areas of our lives. This is difficult but it requires “batching” your time, like what would be effective at work.

Studies overwhelmingly show that multitasking is seriously unhealthy. Yet, we are compelled more and more to engage that way – is this making us more disengaged at life? 


Lastly, are we being compelled only to accept communication in memes, bytes, blips, drips and drabs? Is Idiocracy happening before our eyes?

Unaware of what year it was, Joe wandered the streets desperate for help. But the English language had deteriorated into a hybrid of hillbilly, valleygirl, inner-city slang and various grunts. Joe was able to understand them, but when he spoke in an ordinary voice he sounded pompous and…

If so, we’d be better off taking some time to have deeper discussions or time alone to reflect. It’s impossible to ban together for better changes if we cannot even communicate ideas.

Sensory Overload 

It might time to take charge of our online reading and harness our time, making sure to reconnect with your spirit, family and nature.

Now that you’ve made it this far in the article, you can grab some popcorn and visit our post and see what happens. Tweet-tweet. (We are encouraging comments)

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Heather Callaghan is a natural health blogger and food freedom activist. You can see her work at and Like at Facebook.

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