Social media is now the most popular source for news in the U.S. Web giant Twitter even rebranded itself as a news app in order to reflect this shift in user behavior. But do people actually engage with the millions of articles that are redistributed through these platforms?
A new study has thrown doubt over the perception of social media as a viable news provider. The research, courtesy of Columbia University and the French National Institute, claims that six in 10 people who share news URLs on Twitter don’t actually bother with reading them.
The study looked at 2.8 million shares on Twitter, splitting the data into two categories: one that contained Bit.ly shortened URL links to five major news sources during the course of a month, and one that contained all the clicks attached to the first set. This, the researchers said, allowed them to create a map to show how a news item goes viral on Twitter.
The study’s findings reveal that users don’t click on 59 percent of the news shared on the social network. The spread of this unread news impacts what becomes a trending topic on Twitter. The researchers say that this senseless sharing of news may be having a greater impact on political and cultural agendas than previously realized.
“People are more willing to share an article than read it. This is typical of modern information consumption,” said the study’s co-author Arnaud Legout in a statement. “People form an opinion based on a summary, or a summary of summaries, without making the effort to go deeper.”
In terms of Twitter’s influencers, the study found that when its general users did click on an article it was more so from links shared from individuals and not media outlets.
This indifference toward news on social media could even be driving the clickbait trend that has overtaken the likes of Facebook, and changed the way news companies operate. Clickbait is, after all, one way to attract a person’s attention with the implicit purpose of making them click through to a web page. On the other hand, the increase in clickbait could also be the reason so many people are simply unwilling to read what is shared online. Would you read this article if its title was “You’ll never believe what the majority of Twitter users are doing online”? Probably not, right? But you could end up sharing it with your friends and followers anyway.