The Psychology of Clickbait Headlines (and How to Avoid Them)

Finding Real Value in a Mountain of Manipulation and Deception

Michael J. Mehlberg
13 min readFeb 24, 2021


“I think that there’s become a very clickbait mentality among a lot of reporters, where they’re more interested in their clip or their click than they are about the truth and the facts.” — Sean Spicer

In 2008, settled a false advertising lawsuit with over three million people. It cost them a cool $9.5 million.

Last time I checked, $9.5 million is real money. But, the case claimed that sent deceptive emails to their subscribers, promising to connect them with old friends if they upgraded to their Gold membership. Those connections never came. So, people sued, and Classmates ponied up (Heilpern, 2016).

Six years later, Red Bull settled a payout of $10 to every U.S. consumer who had bought their popular energy drink since 2002, up to $13 million, in a class-action lawsuit over false claims of performance-enhancing benefits. While Red Bull denies any and all wrongdoing or liability, several consumers brought the case against the company for not having improved their physical or intellectual capabilities (Heilpern, 2016). Red Bull has since changed their tagline from “Red Bull Gives You Wings” to “Red Bull Gives You Wiiings,” presumably to avoid further lawsuits and misunderstandings (Team BmmGuru, 2017).

But the biggest misunderstanding of all — the meg, the fat cat, the big kahuna — was with Volkswagen in 2016. They settled their lawsuits for

  1. a buyback or lease-termination offer for over five hundred thousand diesel vehicles,
  2. $14.7 billion (with a ‘B’) in penalties,
  3. $10 billion (with another ‘B’) in consumer compensation, and
  4. $4.7 billion (with another fucking ‘B’) in pollution mitigation for allegations of deceptive advertising.

Volkswagen had promoted their “clean diesel” technology while emitting up to 40 times the pollutants permitted by the U.S. regulations and cheating emissions tests to avoid detection (Volkswagen, 2016). Whoops.

It’s not hard to see what these three companies have in common: They each had to pay exorbitant fees…



Michael J. Mehlberg

Thinker | Writer | Bestselling Author — Subscribe and read 10 Ways to Massively and Immediately Improve Your Life (

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