Shallow Reading (and Reporting)

Stefano Bertolo tweets:

bertolo-01-460

From the Chicago Tribune post:

On June 4, the satirical news site the Science Post published a block of “lorem ipsum” text under a frightening headline: “Study: 70% of Facebook users only read the headline of science stories before commenting.”

Nearly 46,000 people shared the post, some of them quite earnestly — an inadvertent example, perhaps, of life imitating comedy.

Now, as if it needed further proof, the satirical headline’s been validated once again: According to a new study by computer scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute, 59 percent of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked: In other words, most people appear to retweet news without ever reading it.

The missing satire link:

Study: 70% of Facebook users only read the headline of science stories before commenting, from the satirical news site Science Post.

The passage:

According to a new study by computer scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute, 59 percent of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked: In other words, most people appear to retweet news without ever reading it.

should have included a link to: Social Clicks: What and Who Gets Read on Twitter?, by Maksym Gabielkov, Arthi Ramachandran, Augustin Chaintreau, Arnaud Legout.

Careful readers, however, would have followed the link to Social Clicks: What and Who Gets Read on Twitter?, only to discover that Dewey mis-reported the original article.

Here’s how to identify the mis-reporting:

First, as technical articles often do, the authors started with definitions. Definitions that will influence everything you read in that article.


In the rest of this article, we will use the following terms to describe a given URL or online article.

Shares. Number of times a URL has been published in tweets. An original tweet containing the URL or a retweet of this tweet are both considered as a new share.
…(emphasis in the original)

The important point is to remember: Every tweet counts as a “share.” If I post a tweet that is never retweeted by anyone, it goes into the share bucket and is one of the shares that was never clicked on.

That is going to impact our counting of “shares” that were never “clicked on.”

In section 3.3 Blockbusters and the share button, the authors write:


First, 59% of the shared URLs are never clicked or, as we call them, silent. Note that we merged URLs pointing to the same article, so out of 10 articles mentioned on Twitter, 6 typically on niche topics are never clicked 10.

Because silent URLs are so common, they actually account for a significant fraction (15%) of the whole shares we collected, more than one out of seven. An interesting paradox is that there seems to be vastly more niche content that users are willing to mention in Twitter than the content that they are actually willing to click on.
… (emphasis in the original)

To re-write that with the definition of shared inserted:

“…59% of the URLs published in a tweet or re-tweet are never clicked…”

That includes:

  1. Tweet with a URL and no one clicks on the shortened URL in bit.ly
  2. Re-tweet with a URL and a click on the shortened URL in bit.ly

Since tweets and re-tweets are lumped together (they may not be in the data, I haven’t seen it, yet), it isn’t possible to say how many re-tweets occurred without corresponding clicks on the shortened URLs.

I’m certain people share tweets without visiting URLs but this article isn’t authority for percentages on that claim.

Not only should you visit URLs but you should also read carefully what you find, before re-tweeting or reporting.

Comments are closed.