It’s big news, set to shock, amaze, and entertain the world. But unfortunately, it’s got nothing to do with extraterrestrial stoners melding with Earth’s plants.
However, since you’re now reading, you’ll almost certainly be interested in this research that looked into the clicking and sharing behaviors of social media users reading content (or not) and then sharing it on social media.
Here at IFLScience, we noticed long ago that many of our followers will happily like, share, and offer an opinion on an article – all without ever reading it. We’re not the only ones to notice this. Last April, NPR shared an article on their Facebook page which asked “Why doesn’t America read anymore?”. The joke, of course, is that there was no article. They waited to see if their followers would weigh in with an opinion without clicking the link, and they weren’t disappointed.
We’ve been hoping for a chance to try it ourselves, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
A group of computer scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute looked into a dataset of over 2.8 million online news articles that were shared via Twitter. The study found that up to 59 percent of links shared on Twitter have never actually been clicked by that person’s followers, suggesting that social media users are more into sharing content than actually clicking on and reading it.
“People are more willing to share an article than read it,” the study’s co-author Arnaud Legout said in a statement, Washington Post reports. “This is typical of modern information consumption. People form an opinion based on a summary, or a summary of summaries, without making the effort to go deeper.”
This study looks into the psychology behind what makes people want to share content. Research conducted by The New York Times Customer Insight Group looked into what motivates people to share information. Just under half of the people asked in the survey said they share information on social media to inform people and to “enrich” those around them. Conversely, they found 68 percent share to reinforce and project a certain image of themselves – in a sense, to “define” themselves.
In the words of one participant from the study: “I try to share only information that will reinforce the image I’d like to present: thoughtful, reasoned, kind, interested and passionate about certain things.”
It also raises the question of whether online media is just a massive “echo chamber”, where we all just like pages and viewpoints that reinforce our own beliefs and are not interested in information for the sake of information. Even the algorithms of social media sites mean that individuals or pages that you tend to click on, like, or share – which are most often the articles or viewpoints that you agree with – will more frequently turn up on your News Feed.
As a user of online media, you’re probably quite aware of this.
Take a look at any comment on social media pages, including those, of course, on the IFLScience Facebook page. It’s particularly noticeable on the more “emotive” and controversial of subjects; think climate change, GMOs, vaccinations, aliens, and a lot of our articles on marijuana, where the top comments often repeat or question something that is fairly explicitly in the article, but not the headline.
Just this week, our article about capuchins monkeys entering the stone age was met with many of the top comments on theFacebook post pointing out they’ve done this for hundreds of years, despite that being the first thing the article said if you read it. Although from our analytics it’s impossible to see which users did not click through to the article yet shared it, there is fairly often a slightly fine discrepancy between shares and page views which doesn’t quite add up, especially on those buzz subjects.
So, if you are one of the lucky few who managed to click and read this article, we congratulate you! Although we do apologize for the misleading headline. In the meanwhile, have fun sharing the article and seeing who manages to chair a discussion on marijuana genetics, without ever reading it.