People are quicker to share than read news on Twitter, according to a new study which found that 59 per cent of all links shared on the website went unclicked, and presumably unread, even by people who shared them.
The tiny fraction of headlines that news editors push out on Twitter draw a large share of eyeballs, but it is the stories recommended by friends that trigger more clicks, the study found.
In what may be the first independent study of news consumption on social media, researchers at Columbia University and the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation (INRIA) found that reader referrals drove 61 per cent of the nearly 10 million clicks in a random sample of news stories posted on Twitter.
Social media in 2014 overtook organic search as the top way people accessed content on the web, driving 30 per cent of all traffic.
But despite the social web’s growing influence, relatively little is known about how people consume news on these proprietary platforms.
Facebook and Twitter, filter and personalise news for users and closely track the results, but because this data is fundamental to their advertising business very little is made public.
From the one per cent of tweets made public by Twitter, the researchers picked all URLs linked to five news outlets - BBC, Huffington Post, CNN, New York Times and Fox - during a one-month period last summer.
The goal was to find out which stories in their sample of tweets would be shared and clicked on more: the less than 2 per cent of headlines news editors picked to promote from their official Twitter feed, or the headlines readers found on Twitter and shared themselves.
Though far more readers viewed the links news outlets promoted directly on Twitter, the study found that most of what readers shared and read was crowd-curated.
Their results also suggest that people are quicker to share, than read, news discovered on Twitter.
“People are more willing to share an article than read it,” said Arnaud Legout, a research scientist at inria.
“This is typical of modern information consumption. People form an opinion based on a summary, or summary of summaries, without making the effort to go deeper,” said Legout.
For those willing to read, the study finds that stories on Twitter have a relatively long shelf life.
While more than 90 per cent of links in the study were shared within a few hours, most links were clicked on, and presumably read, much later; 70 per cent of clicks happened after the first hour, and 18 per cent happened in the second week, the study found.
“Our results show that sharing content and actually reading it are poorly correlated,” said Legout.
“Likes and shares are not a meaningful measure of content popularity. This means that the industry standard for popularity needs to be rethought,” he said.