The Verge brings us this crazy piece of information, in an article titled “You’re Not Going to Read This”.
Adrianne Jeffries writes:
In the midst of the Twitter argument [about Upworthy sharing], Tony Haile, CEO of Chartbeat, which measures real-time traffic for sites like Upworthy, dropped a bomb: “We’ve found effectively no correlation between social shares and people actually reading,” he wrote.
If you work in media, or have a blog, or are the sort of person who pays any attention to things like how many tweets an article has, this statement probably comes as a surprise. There is an implied relationship between the number of people who choose to blast a link to a piece of content and the interestingness of that content. The media industry has fully digested the idea that likes and retweets are marks of merit and that the viral effect of social media is the ultimate affirmation of relevance, which is why every major news organization now has at least one social media editor. To suddenly say that a story is just as likely to have been read by a million people and tweeted by none of them, as it is to have been tweeted a million times and yet never read, seems impossible. And yet, that’s what Chartbeat has found.
It’s definitely very easy to share stuff without fully reading it, or even fact-checking it (that’s part of why Snopes still exists and is just as important as ever). Personally, whenever I come across something cool on one of these viral websites, I re-share the original piece of content (which most times is a YouTube link), not the Upworthy post itself. I know, it’s harder to do on a mobile, and you know what? I will email myself the link and do it when I get home. It’s more work, but I believe in supporting the original content creator and not driving ad revenue to a website for essentially stealing content. I mean, I do something fairly similar here, yes, but I’m not making any money (no ads), and the goal is education, not page views. I try not to use “clickbait headlines”, and I try to obviously credit the original sources (typically at the beginning of the post, rather than at the end, so they’re hard to miss).
But this is worth keeping in mind when you’re on the social channels. I mean, there are at least two twitter accounts for countering Upworthy’s manipulative post titles (one of them is called @UpworthySpoiler, I forget the other one), and there is now even a browser extension for Chrome that deconstructs these headlines.
So please, think twice, try to re-share the original content and hey, check out the Resources page for links to lots of free websites and youtube channels that feature great, life-enriching content and support the creators.
UPDATE – Great article from Salon on the same subject, “Wow. Facebook just did something amazing to crummy meme sites. And what they do next might shock everyone”, featuring this scathing and damning bit about ViralNova. Seriously, STOP sharing this stuff:
ViralNova seemed the logical, terrible endpoint of the entire thing. It is powered purely by cynicism and contempt. The whole site is (was?) literally one guy who realized he could pretty much do exactly what Upworthy was doing, except by himself and without any earnest illusions about making the world a better place. The founder of ViralNova discovered that it didn’t even matter if the content was recently created, or from a reliable source, or true, or even plausible. All that mattered was a headline and an image, and the shares would follow. In December 2013, the site had 66 million unique visitors. (That, for the record, is a lot.) The site’s creator hopes to unload it for seven figures, in part because he recognizes that Facebook could cripple its traffic in an instant if it decided to.