Digital media (including websites and online social networks) facilitate the broadcasting of news via flexible and personalized channels.
Unlike conventional newspapers which become “read-only” upon
publication, online news sources are free to arbitrarily modify news
headlines after their initial release. The motivation, frequency, and
effect of post-publication headline changes are largely unknown, with
no offline equivalent from where researchers can draw parallels.
In this paper, we collect and analyze over 41K pairs of altered news
headlines by tracking ∼411K articles from major US news agencies
over a six month period (March to September 2021), identifying that
7.5% articles have at least one post-publication headline edit with
a wide range of types, from minor updates, to complete rewrites.
We characterize the frequency with which headlines are modified
and whether certain outlets are more likely to be engaging in post-
publication headline changes than others. We discover that 49.7%
of changes go beyond minor spelling or grammar corrections, with
23.13% of those resulting in drastically disparate information conveyed to readers. Finally, to better understand the interaction between
post-publication headline edits and social media, we conduct a temporal analysis of news popularity on Twitter. We find that an effective
headline post-publication edit should occur within the first ten hours
after the initial release to ensure that the previous, potentially misleading, information does not fully propagate over the social network.