How to Write a Misleading Headline

OK, this is a great headline: Facebook, YouTube at work make better employees: study. From Reuters no less. And the Twittersphere is abuzz with how great surfing at work is.

Here’s the money shot:

“surfing the Internet for fun during office hours increases productivity”

Yeah. Later the explanation:

“Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the Internet, enables the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a days’ work, and as a result, increased productivity”

And only at the end the caveat:

“the study looked at people who browsed in moderation, or were on the Internet for less than 20 percent of their total time in the office” … “”Those who behave with Internet addiction tendencies will have a lower productivity than those without”

So to sum up: short breaks are good. But there are also cases of too much, which is bad. But the article (or the study) doesn’t bother telling us how many browsers are addicts, with ultimately decreased productivity.

So a somewhat relevant study. But a headline like “A little surfing at work makes for better employees: study” would have been far more accurate. But it would have begged the question “how many of us are addicts?” It wouldn’t have made us feel so good about taking our breaks, or feel responsible for making sure we got back to work. And it wouldn’t have received as much buzz as the headline they used, which made it the most popular story on Yahoo!