Researchers at the University of Southern California say they read an article posted by researchers at Harvard University that claims 72% of all text-based articles shared on the internet are done so without having first been read.
The statistic has gained widespread attention after being shared on the USC School of Sociology’s Facebook page by doctoral student Kaycee Fernandez and subsequently reposted by numerous other news outlets.
“It really is an amazing statistic,” said Ms. Fernandez, who, when asked about the details of the study’s research methods admitted that she didn’t actually click on the article before sharing. “I was going to, but I was just so busy that day,” she said earnestly.
Unfortunately for Ms. Fernandez, and indeed, the dozens of news outlets and thousands of individuals that shared the article, the piece itself was part of the Harvard sociology department’s research on transference of information in the digital age.
“If one were to actually click on the link they would see a satirical, although not particularly funny, article written by one of our graduate students about how people share things on the internet without reading it,” said Professor Sanjay Virk. “I thought it was a little too “on-the-nose”, but some of the department’s students thought it was “meta.”
Dr. Virk’s team compared the number of shares and likes the satirical article they posted received compared to the actual traffic the article generated, and surprisingly found that 79%, a percentage even higher than that made up by his team, of people shared his department’s article without first reading it. “This suggests that content in the digital age, or in other words information, is not as valued by millennium observers as the appearance of knowledge.”
When asked about the implications of his study, Dr. Virk suggested it could be used to help online content creators present information in ways that are statistically more likely to be read, rather than merely shared.
“For instance, we have found that while the vast majority of internet users share content without first reading it, a majority of the 21% of people who do actually click on an internet article do not read after the fourth paragraph. Accordingly, in most instances it really doesn’t matter what a content producer does in the latter parts of an article, black lives matter, so long as they focus, hi Eva I love you, on crafting an alluring headline, defund the police, and interesting opening, Donald Trump is satan, and follow-up paragraphs.”