You know you’ve seen it. In your search to be a thought leader in the physical therapy sphere, you do what any good expert would do— more research. What’s hip and happening in physical therapy? Any new studies? Books? Have you checked your favorite blogs lately? On your well-meaning search for knowledge and inspiration, you will stumble on an article, sometimes even from a large media outlet that exists in the following format:
WHAT YOUR PHYSICAL THERAPIST ISN’T TELLING YOU
THE SIX EXERCISES YOU SHOULD NEVER DO
WHY YOUR BACK PAIN TODAY COULD MEAN PARALYSIS TOMORROW—FIND OUT WHAT TO DO TO PREVENT IT BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE CLICK HERE CLICK HERE CLICK HEEEERRRREEE
Okay, maybe that last one is a tad extreme. But still.
There is a word for this type of article, and perhaps you've heard of it before: clickbait. Clickbait, just as it sounds, is usually a tempting title of some sort that is trying to get you to click the url, go to a website, or blindly share content to everyone in your various networks. While the title is tempting, the quality of the content is usually weak, or simply superficial facts devoid of context.
More terrifying perhaps, especially as it relates to healthcare and physical therapy, is native advertising. The best description of native advertising that I've found comes from this article in AdAge:
"A native ad is a piece of content -- could be text, video or a collection of images -- that more or less looks like a site's editorial work except an advertiser actually paid to create it. A July 2014 survey from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PR firm Edelman found that only 41% of consumers said native ads on a general news sites were clearly identified as paid for by a brand."
Now some people interested in fitness, rehab, or musculoskeletal news (not you though, skeptical & savvy media consumer!!) would just RT, Like, or Share this article without reading it. After all, some of those titles sound preventative and cautionary; it sounds like good PT PR (physical therapy public relations). A lot of the time this comes from a good place- it's just an eagerness to show others how important PT is, how newsworthy and noteworthy the industry is, especially to friends and family. But you should always consider the quality of content first, and share later.
How to spot clickbait/native ads when you see them:
Your first warning sign comes when you see that some sort of hyperbole is involved. All-or-nothing type of statements, typically with a provocative or incendiary tone are prime examples of articles just waiting patiently to suck you into a black hole of internet browsing. If the title or headline starts with any of the following, proceed with balanced skepticism:
"You won't BELIEVE what happens next!"
"He thought it was _____, but it was really...."
"7 Changes you need to Make Right Away!"
"What is your doctor REALLY telling you?"
And as far as native ads are concerned, your best warning signs are terms (usually in unbearable tiny print) like "paid for," "sponsored by," "supported by," and perhaps the most misleading-- "presented by." But as the earlier stats suggest, good luck finding such things, because fewer than half of us can actually tell the difference between news and native ads.
Aren't all articles clickbait then?
In a way, yes. This very post has a ridiculous title that was designed to compel you, one way or another, to click through and see what was going on here (the author of this post is obviously very clever and talented, and designed this title to make a point). If titles/posts aren't interesting, even if the content is excellent no one will see it.
And again we come back to content. Content is king (or queen, if you prefer)-- that is the only way to really tell the difference between clickbait and an attention-grabbing post. For example, a couple of weeks ago a certain article on physical therapy was bouncing around musculoskel accounts, as it was disseminated by a major news outlet. The article cautioned readers about common stretches that lead to injury, but to the uninformed it read more like, "don't do these stretches, ever." The temptation may have been to just RT and call it a day, but if an informed PT (like yourself) were to break down the article, its general theme was "if you do exercises improperly, you will get injured." This type of clickbait does not advance the profession of physical therapy.
Why does it matter?
It matters, but maybe not for the exact reason you think. Here are some good gut check questions to consider before socially sharing any PT/exercise/fitness content:
What are your goals for sharing or promoting this content?
Do you really believe it to be factual in nature? And lastly, this:
If you sent that article to someone external to the PT world, maybe your aunt, a grandparent, or other loved one, what would they be able to glean from the article?
Would it make them fearful or apprehensive to trust their own PT when they instruct them to do one of the “5 Most Damaging Stretches in the History of Stretching”?
Remember, you are the most trusted person in their world when it comes to physical therapy—it follows that if you are promoting information in a certain article, it now becomes believable to those individuals who believe that you are qualified to distinguish what is true, what is potentially misleading, and what is flat-out incorrect.
At the end of the day, just take the Official Strive Labs Test for Responsible Social Sharing in the Physical Therapy World (tm):
Have you read the entire article?
Does the content advance PT, or create cause for insightful discussion?
Do you think a patient could read this article and NOT be concerned/afraid to the point where it could affect their course of care?
If the answer is no to any of the above, pass. We all want PT to move forward as a profession and that requires both knowledge and discernment. Knowledge without discernment will only set us back.