It’s not as common as you think!

How often do you share content on social media after only reading the headline? More often than not, you’ll click through to the article to actually read it before sharing! Although a common theory on social is that consumers on social media routinely share stories they haven’t read, our data shows a staggering trend that essentially debunks this myth. However, anxiety about this behavior does spike especially around elections. Twitter even rolled out a feature this year that asks users if they truly want to share it even if they haven’t clicked on it/read it.

Twitter’s new feature encourages people not to share without reading

That perception is almost entirely false, though, according to our analysis. The vast majority of news articles shared on social media generated more clicks than shares or retweets.

SocialFlow processes about a billion clicks on news articles every single month, and we analyzed the 1,000 most-shared articles for the past 30 days (ending on November 19). Our data show that social media users tend to click on stories they see on social media far more than they share them. The difference is even more striking when you look at the 1,000 most clicked-on stories: they generate tens of thousands times more clicks than shares. Both data sets can be seen in this graph:

Source: Posts by SocialFlow Clients, October 20 through November 19, 2020

 

There are some stories that generate more shares than clicks, and this is where it gets interesting. These stories tend to fall into one of two categories:

  1. News articles in which the headline tells the entire story. Articles about the deaths of Sean Connery and Alex Trebek, and articles about news organizations calling the presidential election for Joe Biden elicited more shares than clicks.
  2. Inflammatory political articles. These include a article from a conservative outlet about how Vice President-elect Kamala Harris failed to prosecute gang members while working as California attorney general; and an article from a liberal outlet about how a President Trump campaign rally led to 30,000 Covid infections.

The first category is easy to explain. For many people, the headlines were news enough — they didn’t need to click-through to understand what happened.

The second category is more interesting. It suggests that highly-charged political articles elicit a visceral emotional response that prompts people to share the post without even reading it — a behavior that makes perfect sense given the polarization of U.S. politics over the past several years.

This analysis comes with a couple important caveats:

  • Just because someone clicks on a story doesn’t mean they followed through and actually read it. And it certainly doesn’t mean they read it in its entirety or with any degree of thoughtfulness.
  • Even if the overall number of clicks for an article exceeds the number of shares, some people no doubt share without reading it.
  • This analysis relates to news stories published by SocialFlow media clients, and not posts from politicians or individuals.
  • Twitter’s new feature, rolled out first on Android and then on iOS devices, may very well have affected behavior as intended. Though only 22% of the most-shared stories were on Twitter; the rest were on Facebook.

Caveats aside, it’s both surprising and encouraging that “share without reading” behavior appears to be far more rare than you would think.