Hardly Anyone Reads What You Share on Social Media, Research Claims

Hardly Anyone Reads What You Share on Social Media, Research Claims
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 07 January, 2023

They say we live in the age of clickbait and sensational news that we consume almost compulsively. However, this isn’t entirely true. In fact, reading the content that others share certainly isn’t the most common activity we carry out on social media.

Share is a word that’s loaded with positive feelings and intentions. It implies enjoying something together and giving what belongs to us to others to benefit both parties. That said, in the digital universe, the act of sharing can be like the apple that the evil Queen offered to Snow White. A poisoned gift.

This is because what you receive from third parties isn’t always useful information. Moreover, it’s often not true and is often disrespectful. In fact, many people press the button out of sheer inertia or due to certain unconscious needs. Indeed, according to research conducted by Columbia University (USA), six out of ten people don’t read the messages they receive on social media.

We share information because it makes us seem smarter and more connected to what’s going on in the world.

boy thinking that hardly anyone reads what he shares
Hitting the share button is an unconscious impulse for many users of social media.

Why hardly anyone reads what you share on social media

How many times have you received false information that your contacts have sent you through social media or on WhatsApp? Also, how many times have you shared links to articles or news that you haven’t even read? Undoubtedly, the tendency to send unverified data on a massive scale is the biggest virus in today’s world.

One such example occurred in 2018. The Science Post website published a story with the following headline: “70 percent of Facebook users only read the titles of scientific articles before commenting”. This article was shared thousands of times. However, almost nobody opened the link to discover that the text was simple Lorem ipsum. In other words, totally unconnected and meaningless typeface text.

This tends to prove that hardly anyone reads what they share on social media. It’s because we’re dominated by a society that’s marked by immediacy and cognitive impatience. We’re governed by the impact that a headline can cause, to the point of making completely unfounded facts go viral. A recent study provided more information about this fact and suggested that, behind this kind of behavior, lie deeper needs.

Sharing news is easier and faster than reading it.

Subjective knowledge and Dunning-Kruger syndrome

The above-mentioned study was conducted by the University of Texas (USA). It explains that sharing information raises users’ perception of their knowledge. It doesn’t matter in the least that they’re not familiar with quantum physics or microbiology. The mere fact of sharing an article on these topics raises their self-perception of mastery of the subject concerned.

Therefore, sharing this kind of content on your wall on social media or among your WhatsApp group is like telling others that you possess certain knowledge that, in reality, you don’t have. In fact, you’ve fallen into the eternal bias of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

In other words, the simple fact of sending and publishing certain news, articles, or specific data causes a part of the population to overestimate their abilities and skills. This is what lies behind the fact that, on Twitter, there are many people who appear to be experts in war conflicts, economic crises, and viral infections.

There’s no time to read, sharing is better

We all live in an environment that pushes and pulls us in all directions and demands that we move on to new tasks without finishing the previous ones. Immediacy is the norm and the progressive inability to focus attention is its consequence. In your daily life, you receive a great deal of information and endless notifications. However, instead of controlling and putting limits on what you receive, you have a tendency to let yourself go.

We’ve all become cognitively impatient. We’re beings with an extremely impoverished capacity to process information. Not only do we have no time, but we also have no desire. It’s common to get carried away by the dopamine boost that comes from seeing a sensational headline and sharing it instantly. There’s no time to read because sharing is more fun.

In addition, the fact of sharing generates interaction and also controversy. For instance, you instantly receive a like followed by a series of entertaining messages. You might find this to be more enriching than reading. In effect, you have no motivation because that requires time, reflective capacity, and critical sense.

Much of the news that’s shared virally isn’t even read.

Woman looking at her mobile thinking that hardly anyone reads what she shares
All information from the digital world should be analyzed and contrasted before it’s shared.

Information shouldn’t be ‘consumed’ and it should be useful

We’ve all become emotional consumers of content. We award likes and share only the kind of information that generates a sensation, an emotion. The briefer the better. That’s why our attention is almost always focused on the headlines. The media know this and don’t hesitate in creating the most sensational stories.

However, you should be clear about one aspect. Information should enrich and nourish, not poison. If hardly anyone reads what you’re sharing, avoid being the bearer of the radioactive apple that contains false information. That said, all of us, at some point, have been carried away by this kind of impulse.

If you want to appear more enlightened and competent in a subject, the only way to achieve it is by reading. That and no other is the cure for all ills and ignorance. Also, try and analyze the information that reaches you with a critical sense. These two actions are the best antidotes in today’s digital world, where it’s far too easy to get drunk on toxic content.

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    • Gabielkov, M., Ramachandran, A., Chaintreau, A., & Legout, A. (2016). Social clicks: What and who gets read on Twitter?. ACM SIGMETRICS / IFIP Performance 2016. Antibes Juan-les-Pins, France. ffhal-01281190f. https://hal.inria.fr/hal-01281190/document
    • Ward, A. F., Zheng, J., & Broniarczyk, S. M. (2022). I share, therefore I know? Sharing online content‐even without reading it‐inflates subjective knowledge. Journal of Consumer Psychologyhttps://doi.org/10.1002/jcpy.1321

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