21 Jun 2016

You might share this, but you probably won’t read it

11:31 am on 21 June 2016

A new study confirms what we all knew deep down; we don't always read the stuff we share on social media. 

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Photo: Unknown

It's up there with the worst of modern day habits – like taking photos of every meal and writing really long Facebook posts that require pushing the "expand" button to read the whole thing – and now science has thrown the ultimate shade by proving we probably aren't reading the stuff we share. Thanks a lot, science. 

Nothing quite highlighted this better than when a satirical news website published a story with the headline, '70% of Facebook users only read the headline of science stories before commenting'. 

More than 40,000 people shared that post, according to The Washington Post, but inside was mostly a large block of lorem ipsum text; a computer-generated filler text.

It's easy to scoff, but it turns out six out of ten of us are doing the same thing. 

Computer scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute were interested in whether sharing articles on social media actually generates clicks. They tracked links from five news giants, including BBC, Huffington Post and Fox News, over a month in 2015 and found that people were quicker to share than read articles on Twitter.

About 59 percent of links that were shared went unclicked, and presumably unread.

“People are more willing to share an article than read it,” says study co-author Arnaud Legout“This is typical of modern information consumption. People form an opinion based on a summary, or summary of summaries, without making the effort to go deeper.”

Social media overtook organic search as the top way people accessed content on the web in 2014, driving 30 percent of all online traffic. Twitter is ranked third behind Facebook and Pinterest in total volume of web traffic, and often appears second after Facebook as a platforms where users discuss news and current events.

There are over 300,000 Twitter users in New Zealand, about 7.4 percent of the population.

The researchers also found that most of what we share and read is "crowd-curated", meaning that we're much more likely to click on articles shared by Twitter users, rather than the media organisation itself. “Readers know best what their followers want,” said the study’s senior author, Augustin Chaintreau. “In the future, they will have more and more say about what’s newsworthy. 

So it seems we can be purveyors of taste without even having to know what we're purveying. What a time to be alive.